Though he didn’t miss a single game of the Stanley Cup final, it was clear Tampa Bay Lightning standout Tyler Johnson was battling through a significant injury. And even though he has had the summer to heal, Johnson says he’s still not quite at 100 percent.
“It’s progressing,” Johnson told the Tampa Tribune’s Erik Erlendsson. “I don’t know if I would say that it’s 100 percent, but it’s getting there. It feels better every day, so it’s one of those things now that it just keeps getting strength and it feels better.”
Exactly how bad Johnson’s injury was has never been revealed — all that’s known is that his broken wrist didn’t require him to undergo surgery. Johnson, 25, injured the wrist on a hit from Chicago Blackhawks blueliner Brent Seabrook in the opening game of the final and, though he was the post-season’s leading scorer with 13 goals and 23 points, he was held to just one goal and three points in the final, in part due to the injury.
While there’s no question whether or not Johnson, one-third of the Lightning’s ‘Triplets’ line, will be back this season, there could be cause for concern about when he’ll be back to full health. From the time the season ended in late-June until mid-August, Johnson’s wrist had been in a cast to help heal the injury. The injury was severe enough that Johnson, a center, couldn’t take faceoffs for the last five games of the Stanley Cup final. The Lightning even considered making Johnson sit out a game in the final, but Johnson told Erlendsson it was only, “discussed…but it never really went further than discussing it.”
“It’s tough when you get to that part of the season, the Stanley Cup Final, you think about that your entire life, and not to be necessarily 100 percent,” Johnson told Erlendsson. “But the thing is, nobody is when you get to that point in the playoffs. It was a true lesson to learn that everyone is beat up, everyone has to play through it. Unfortunately for me, I was a little worse than some.’’
The focus now will be getting Johnson’s wrist into good enough shape that he can suit up come opening night. But more than that, it will be important that he regains enough strength to line up as a center and perform his role as admirably as he did all throughout the 2014-15 campaign.
Johnson made it to the Lightning as an undrafted free agent, so he’s had his fair share of hurdles en route to a full-time NHL career. Battling through his wrist injury will be just another roadblock that the 5-foot-8 pivot will have to get past in order to solidify himself as a star.
After putting himself in the Calder Trophy conversation in his rookie year — he finished third in voting in 2013-14 following a 24-goal, 50-point season — Johnson bucked the sophomore slump with a breakout 29-goal, 72-point performance. In the post-season, he showed his regular season was no fluke with 13 goals and 23 points. To do that again in 2015-16 would be to prove, once and for all, that he’s the real deal for the Lightning.