Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson is ready for his encore

Ryan Kennedy
Tyler-Johnson

It’s the middle of the summer and Tyler Johnson is just kicking back at home in Spokane, Wash. You would think the Tampa Bay Lightning pivot would be crushing a vacation, seeing as he’s coming off a Calder Trophy nomination and a new contract that will pay him $10 million over the next three seasons. But Johnson is chill. Sure, he dropped by Amsterdam after duties with Canada’s world championship squad ended in Belarus, but otherwise the undrafted 5-foot-9 Washington State native is happy to stay in Spokane.

“I just love being at home,” he said. “That’s my fun. I recently purchased a house, so that was my big hurrah.”

Real estate is more sensible than say, a dune buggy or a cigarette boat, but it makes sense for Johnson, who helped propel the Lightning to a 101-point campaign, despite the loss of Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop to injury and Marty St-Louis to a trade at different points of the season. The 24-year-old proved himself to be a dependable player, not only racking up points in the offensive end, but also keeping opponents on their toes while they seemingly had the man advantage: Johnson tied Boston’s Brad Marchand for the NHL lead in shorthanded goals with five.

The challenge for 2014-15 will be to keep the good times rolling in Tampa. The Lightning really fortified their lineup over the summer and expectations will be very high, especially with Stamkos and Bishop back to full health. There’s no reason this team can’t compete for the Eastern Conference title, but Johnson and fellow Calder nominee Ondrej Palat will need to be good again.

And while sophomore slumps are far from a myth in the NHL, Johnson’s not worried about his second season with the Bolts.

“I don’t think too far into the future,” he said. “I’ve always been like that. I’ve worked hard all summer and I’m excited to get going.”

Having a superstar such as Stamkos on the team has also been a boon. Not only is ‘Stammer’ a wizard on the ice, but he’s also very approachable in the room, which was nice for youngsters such as Johnson and Palat.

“Stammer, in all honesty, is one of the easiest guys to get to know right away,” Johnson said. “He’s always one of the first guys there when a player is called up.”

Compounding the ease of Johnson’s transition is the presence of coach Jon Cooper. Johnson has never played a pro game without Cooper behind the bench, as the pair first worked together in the American League. Their first collaboration was in 2011-12, when Cooper steered the Norfolk Admirals to the championship. A year later, with Tampa Bay switching its affiliation, Johnson was named league MVP as a member of Cooper’s Syracuse Crunch. Now, they’re making magic in the NHL.

“He expects the best, but he’s also going to be there for you,” Johnson said. “That goes a long way. You want to give your all for him because you know he’ll do the same.”

Cooper has won titles in the AHL, United States League and North American League already. With Johnson as part of his cast in Tampa Bay, can he add a Stanley Cup to the shelf as well?