29-Year-Old Center – Tampa Bay Lightning
Tyler Johnson Contract Information:
Johnson re-signed with the Lightning on a seven-year, $35 million deal in July of 2017.
Johnson recorded a hat trick along with a plus-4 rating and six shots in Tuesday's 5-4 win over Carolina.
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Tyler Johnson: Past News Updates ( ▲ View most recent update )
RotoWire's Preseason Outlooks
The dynamic 26-year-old Johnson is coming off an injury-riddled season that saw his production drop to just 38 points in 69 games (down from 72 points in 77 games in 2014-15). But don't let those numbers fool you – Johnson is every bit an elite two-way NHL center, and the drop in points was purely temporary. He rebounded in the playoffs and delivered 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 17 games, good for second in team scoring. Johnson is the spark plug for the Bolts' Triplets Line – he, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat bring the perfect combination of speed, skill and tenacity to the ice. However, it's worth noting that this season could be the line's last one together – there's only so much cash to go around and Johnson could be squeezed out of town because of the big contract he'll warrant during next season's negotiations. The pending RFA will be out to prove he deserves a $5-6 million windfall, so expect a season much closer to 2014-15 than last year. Draft him early.
Johnson is the little engine that could -- and did. The 5-foot-8 pivot centered the Triplets Line for the Bolts last season, and he, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat quickly became the Bolts’ offensive engine, an arrangement that lasted into the playoffs. Johnson finished the season with 72 points (tied for 14th in the NHL) and was third overall in plus-minus (plus-33). The undersized, undrafted center even potted 29 goals, defying the ‘be big or don’t bother’ thinking of a lot of NHL teams. He’s a game-changer, so there is no reason to think he should take a step backward in 2015-16. In fact, the Triplets will probably continue terrorizing opposing teams for as long as the team can afford to keep them.
Johnson is an offensive dynamo in a very tiny package. This 5-foot-9 sparkplug earned a Calder nomination on the back of a 24-goal, 50-point season and looked every part a young Martin St. Louis. Unfortunately, he's unlikely to repeat his successes this season. Not only is a sophomore slump likely, but there's also the matter of determining his role. Johnson’s ice time shot up when Steven Stamkos was out of the lineup last season, which certainly helped his production. He had 19 points in 37 games when the Bolts captain was in the lineup, compared to 31 in 45 when he was out. Don't be surprised by a 40-point season, particularly if he slots in as the third-line center. Move that toward 50 if he earns a gig as a top-six winger.
Is Johnson the next Marty St. Louis? The Bolts sure hope so. Johnson is vertically challenged, but has elite sniping ability. He ran away with the AHL goal title this past season with 37 in just 62 games and could have come close to 45 (and won the overall scoring title) had he not played 14 games with the Bolts. He can play center and left wing, and it's the latter where he'll get his best chance at glory with the Bolts. He doesn't have Jonathan Drouin-like talent, but he knows how to play in all three zones. And his exploits last season made rookie hot shot, Cory Conacher, expendable. He and Alex Killorn will likely battle for the third-line left wing job in Tampa and that's a plum spot -- second-line winger, Ryan Malone, will be on the IR for at least 20 or 25 games, so opportunity will definitely knock. Watch him in camp -- he might be worth a last-round pick.
We like Johnson, don't get us wrong. But his hype machine is in overdrive right now and it's time to take a deep breath. His gifts are tremendous. He's lightning quick, great on the draw and in his own zone, abrasive, aggressive and offensively gifted. Now for the reality check. He's a 5-9 sparkplug who went undrafted before an explosive 53-goal, 115-point effort as an overager last season. Hockey pundits have a tendency to undervalue prolific overagers but maybe this kid is different. His pedigree does include two world junior tourneys, after all, where he was excellent as a checking line blanket. Keep an eye on him and hope that he bucks the trend.