Who’s the leading scorer for the Tampa Bay Lightning?
The default setting for this answer is “Steven Stamkos” because, well, he’s Steven Stamkos.
But as of Monday, Stamkos is five points off the pace for the Bolts’ leading point-getter.
The leader is Tyler Johnson: center, sophomore and first-time all-star.
He has 45 points in his first 42 games, skating to a plus-26. He plays in every situation, and anchors perhaps the best line in the NHL this season with Nikita Kucherov (17 goals, 24 points) and Ondrej Palat (9 goals, 23 points). All of this coming after he placed third for the Calder Trophy behind Palat and the winner, Nathan MacKinnon.
We spoke with Johnson – prior to his being named to the all-star team – about his breakout season, the scoring race, coach Jon Cooper and a great many other things.
Q. Do you ever look at the stats page and are like, ‘What do you know, I’m outscoring Stamkos?”
JOHNSON: [Laughs] “Not really. The only reason it ever comes up is because of media. You can’t focus on points. When you start focusing on that, it starts going south. You stop playing the game the right way. And if you play the game the right way, good things happen. That includes points.”
Q. Why does this line you’re on work so well?
“Tough to say why it works. We all play similar games, similar styles, but all add a little aspect to it. But we’re obviously working hard. Pally and Kutch make the game easier with how they play.”
Q. With you and Palat last season vying for the Calder, is there any form of friendly rivalry there?
“Not really. We’ve played together for four years now. We’ve been through it all together. He’s one of the guys … well, everyone’s like this, but if someone wasn’t scoring and he scores, it almost feels like I did. We pull for each other. Best friends, on and off the ice.”
Q. What do you guys do away from the rink?
“At home and on the road, going to the rink together everyday. Having dinners. Going sightseeing.”
Q. Who’s the more expensive eater?
“Ahhh … that’s pretty close. When we go out, we pretty much split the bill, so it doesn’t matter.”
Q. What’s it like playing with Kucherov. Is his English good?
“It’s definitely better than when I first started talking to him.” [Laughs]
“He’s one of these guys that gets nervous, so he’s a little quiet when you first start talking to him. But once he gets comfortable, it’s pretty good. You might have to tell him what a word means now and then, but for the most part he’s really good at it. The more I play with him, the more fun it is to work with him on the ice.”
Q. Has anything besides the line changed for you, to allow you to have the year you’ve had this season?
“It’s confidence. You come into the League, you play the game not to make mistakes. You don’t want to be the guy that costs your team a goal. Now it’s more about being able to make the play. And play the way that got me here at the NHL level. With time, this happens. With good coaching, this happens. And playing with good players."
Q. You’ve been a penalty killer for the Lightning since you came into the League. What do you like about it? If you like it, that is.
“I love it. It was one of my favorite things to do in junior, because there’s a lot to it. It’s a thinking game, and it’s a challenge. You’re a guy down. You’re not expected to do anything. And then you get the opportunity to make a play and it’s just kind of fun to have an extra challenge.
“It’s a chess match out there. Everyone’s trying to get open, set up plays. You have a split second to decide what they’re trying, and then disrupt it. You’re trying to figure out what they’re doing, and they’re doing the exact same thing. It’s pretty cool.”
Q. Is there anybody on the power play that you face that gives you that ‘oh, crap’ moment?
“Too many to mention for sure.” [Laughs]
"I remember in one of my first games, we were playing Pittsburgh. Kris Letang was at the top. I thought I had him, thought I’d go out and disrupt him and take the puck. And he put it through my legs.”
Q. How have you seen Cooper change as a head coach?
“I don’t know if he’s changed at all since I met him. He’s always been a successful coach, always had that swagger about him. Extremely smart. But really good at communicating with the players. One of those guys that’s just fun to play for. Understands the game, and understands what players need.”
Q. In talking to some of your teammates earlier this year, it seems like you guys easily buy into the style he teaches because it’s just fun to play.
“Yeah, definitely. Guys don’t really like playing a trap game. The way we play is obviously structured, but it’s a fast, aggressive speed based game. We do have structure. But it’s really effective when you add in speed and skill and everything else.”
Q. Alright, what are you listening to these days?
“A little bit of everything. During the summer, a lot of country. As the season goes on, techno or rock. There’s a lot more of it during the season.”
Q. Because the European players pump techno into the room?
“They started it, for sure. But it is catchy.”
Q. What’s the last TV show you binged?
“Depends on my mood. Last one I just finished watching through was ‘Suits.’”
Q. What’s the last movie you watched?
Q. Where did you see it after the North Korea thing yanked it from theaters?
“YouTube. I saw the previews for it before that stuff happened. And then when it all happened, I figured I’d give it a look.
“It was stupid funny.”