Mar 22, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) takes the ice to begin the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Johnson: Great Gift in a Small Package

Everyone knows that old adage: Great gifts come in small packages. I don’t know it to be a fact, but I do know that as a kid, the only time I heard those words was at Christmas time. I also felt then, that only big packages contained the really good gifts. I’m here to say, my Grandmother was right, at least when it comes to Tampa Bay Lightning’s Tyler Johnson. He has shown thus far, to be a great player in a small body.

Tyler Johnson is generously listed at 5’9” and 175 pounds. He plays bigger than that. He plays like he’s 6’3”, 220 lbs.

In case you are one of the newest members to Bolts Nation, or spent the last couple years living in a cave or under a rock, then you know how big T.J. plays.  On face offs, rushing the attacking zone, on defense. He plays huge.

You may also be aware that Tyler Johnson went undrafted by the NHL in the 2010 Entry Draft. That means 30 teams in seven rounds could have selected Johnson but decided to go with someone else. Can you imagine? Even the Lightning selected two centers in 2010. James Mullin in the fourth round and Brendan O’Donnell in the sixth. Both played NCAA hockey last season.  According to BoltProspects.com, Brendan O’Donnell is the 22nd rated prospect in the Lightning organization. Mullin isn’t listed among the top 25.  Apparently, Tyler Johnson is playing bigger than those two.

But Tyler Johnson who went undrafted that year and signed an entry level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011 is coming off an impressive rookie campaign. One of three finalists for the Calder Trophy for NHL Rookie of the Year, Johnson scored 24 goals and added 26 assists.

There is no doubt that 29 other teams are kicking themselves for not taking a chance on the undersized Johnson. Taking a look at his career prior to joining the Lightning, should have been enough to at least burn a seventh round choice.  Yet, no team did.  Too small they said.  Not big enough.

Tyler Johnson played for the Spokane Chiefs, his hometown team, in the WHL in 2007-08. He scored 13 goals and added 22 assists. Not entirely impressive but not too shabby either. He was 17 years old at the time but he did help lead the Chiefs to the Ed Chynoweth Cup as league Champions. Playing in the WHL playoffs, Tyler Johnson scored five goals and 3 assists leading the Chiefs to the Memorial Cup and he was named MVP in the WHL playoffs. At 17 years old. Little guy, playing big.  Just wait until he fills out!

He followed that up with 26 goals and 35 assists the next season, then 36 goals and 35 assists the year after that. Still no team drafted him. In his final year with Spokane, Tyler Johnson scored 53 goals and 62 assists in 71 games.  Talk about playing big.  Tyler Johnson is now personifying that cliché. Clearly, people were going to take notice now. An NHL team did. Your Tampa Bay Lightning signed him after that final year in Spokane.  Finally, Johnson must have thought – The Big Time.

In the 2011-2012 season, playing for the Norfolk Admirals, the Lightning AHL affiliate, Tyler Johnson scored 31 goals and 37 assists. By the way, that year he played for a guy named Jon Cooper. One of his line mates that year was another guy by the name of Ondrej Palat. Oh yeah, small thing worth noting. The Admirals won the Calder Cup, the AHL version of Lord Stanley’s Cup. So, by the time he’s 21 years old, Johnson was an integral cog on two teams that won their respective championships.  Perhaps, a sign of big things to come, Lightning fans.

I’m sure Tyler Johnson has heard them all before: tiny, miniature, diminutive, peewee and on and on. All those things scouts say, when they see a player that might be small in stature. Johnson is proving so many people wrong on so many levels.

The naysayers have already begun to talk about the Sophomore Jinx. The old saying that sometimes a breakthrough rookie season is followed by a tremendous slump. I don’t profess to have a crystal ball. Time will tell just how good Tyler Johnson will be in the NHL. I simply have watched the NHL for about 40 years. I have seen my share of small players play big. Play bigger than their size. They play big because their heart.

Tyler Johnson is that type of player. So, thinking about my grandmother, who would give me small gift boxes every Christmas and as she handed me the box would say on cue “Great gifts come in small packages.” You’re right, Grandma, especially for the Lightning and Tyler Johnson, truer words were never spoken.

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