Of all the things that were going right for the Tampa Bay Lightning to begin 2017-18, Tyler Johnson wasn’t exactly lighting the NHL on fire.
Through the first 25 games of the season, Johnson managed a mere four goals and seven assists for 11 points. That’s not disastrous, but it didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the seven-year, $35 million contract he recently signed.
Perhaps that deal will still come back to haunt the Lightning (maybe when it comes to giving Nikita Kucherov his future, well-deserved raise), but it turns out that Tuesday’s hat trick merely put an exclamation point on what might be a revitalizing season for Johnson.
It’s easy to lose track of such things when Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy are conquesting like Alexander the Great, yet it’s true. Johnson’s been electric in his own right.
In the past 17 games, Johnson’s generated 12 goals and 11 assists for a whopping 23 points.
He’s been hot lately, as that hat trick helped him put together five points in his last three games, but Johnson’s best stretch basically came down to, essentially, a month-long, 12-game point streak (eight goals, 10 assists).
With all of that in mind, Johnson’s lining up one of the best seasons of his career. He already has 34 points in 42 games this season, putting him close to matching his totals from two tough recent campaigns (45 points in 2016-17, 38 in 2015-16). In those cases, he was unable to hit 70 regular-season games played. His best work, far away, came in 2014-15, when he scored 72 points in 77 games and was sensational in the playoffs.
One big reason for the surge is that Johnson’s been playing with a guy he once had great success with (Ondrej Palat) and a rising star in Brayden Point. His most common linemate overall has been Alex Killorn (via Natural Stat Trick), but during the last 10 games, that trio’s been together even more often than Stamkos, Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov (according to Left Wing Lock).
Johnson would probably say that what he’ll do in the playoffs is most important, and that’s been an area of strength even during seasons when he’s been banged up. Johnson has star-type postseason numbers so far in his career: 42 points in 47 playoff games.
Most of the headlines go to Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman, and Vasilevskiy, and rightfully so. Those guys are putting the Lightning so far ahead of the pack that they need a special rear-view mirror (maybe borrowed from the Capitals?) to see their nearest competition for the Presidents’ Trophy.
Still, when the games matter, teams may somehow slow Kucherov-Stamkos, at least every now and then. The scary part is that Jon Cooper might have found another deadly option, and a familiar one, in Johnson.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.
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