Lightning's Tyler Johnson has Red Wings ties

Tyler Johnson has known Detroit coach Mike Babcock for so long, Babcock remembers him “being a little pip-squeak.”
Tyler Johnson has known Detroit coach Mike Babcock for so long, Babcock remembers him “being a little pip-squeak.”
Published Jan. 30, 2015

TAMPA — Imagine this: Lightning C Tyler Johnson in a Red Wings uniform.

Turns out, it might have been fitting. Detroit coach Mike Babcock goes way back with Johnson, having coached in the center's hometown, Spokane, Wash., from 1994-2000. Babcock said Johnson's mother, Debbie, taught his kids how to skate.

"It's unbelievable he's not a Red Wing," quipped Babcock, whose Red Wings played the Lightning on Thursday. "I could have hand delivered that guy so easy it's not even funny. Should have mentioned that a few times."

Johnson had a few ties to the Red Wings when he signed with Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent in 2011. His coach with the junior Spokane Chiefs, Bill Peters, joined Babcock's staff as an assistant in the summer.

Johnson picked Tampa Bay largely due to a conversation he had with Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman, the Lightning general manager. Johnson, a 5-foot-9, 182-pound center, has gone from AHL MVP to Calder Trophy finalist to first-time NHL All-Star this season.

"I remember him being a little pip-squeak," Babcock said. "For a little pip-squeak who was never drafted, he turned himself into an unbelievable player."

MARTY MANIA: With future Hall of Fame G Martin Brodeur having his retirement news conference Thursday, several Lightning players said they appreciated his impact on the game.

Brodeur, 42, finished with a league-record 691 regular-season wins, 113 in the postseason, three Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies as the league's top goalie.

"If he's not the best, he's one of the best," veteran G Evgeni Nabokov said. "Every single stat has proven that. His consistency is second to none."

G Ben Bishop said he watched Brodeur a lot as a kid, appreciating how he'd play the puck.

"He's going to go down as one of the best ever," Bishop said. "He's a winner, and whenever you see a goalie play that many games, it's pretty cool. It was pretty impressive."

POWER UP: Touted rookie LW Jonathan Drouin hasn't had a ton of power-play time this season, so he was happy to get moved up to the first unit for Thursday's game. "It's a chance for me to show what I can do," Drouin said. "The coaching staff is starting to trust me a little bit, and it's good to see that."

BACK IN: RW J.T. Brown returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous three games. It appeared he might have an early night after missing most of the first period following a hit from D Kyle Quincey. But Brown returned in the second period.

ICE CHIPS: Bishop made his sixth straight start. … LW Brenden Morrow and D Luke Witkowski were scratched. … RW Ryan Callahan and C Brian Boyle were alternate captains. … D Jason Garrison got in a second-period fight with LW Justin Abdelkader. … D Mark Barberio scored his first goal of the season and first since March 8, 2014. … The Lightning hosts "Hockey Day in Tampa" on Feb. 15, including a watch party and an appearance by former coach John Tortorella. … Former Rays OF Matt Joyce, a Tampa native, was the Lightning's social media captain.

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Contact Joe Smith at Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.