Waiting Game Almost Over for Johnson

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Tyler Johnson tried to not think about it.

One step away from achieving his dream, the Syracuse Crunch forward, seeing teammate after teammate getting called up to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, kept a positive attitude.

“Everyone’s dream is to play in the NHL, so you’re always thinking about it,” Johnson said Tuesday. “At the same time, you can’t really worry about it. You have worry about playing here, and getting better. That’s what this league is about – getting better.”

Twenty-six of the 46 players participating in the AHL All-Star Game Jan. 28 have since made their NHL debuts, including the Crunch’s Richard Panik and Radko Gudas. Although Johnson was given a look during the abbreviated training camp after the end of the lockout, Johnson didn’t stick and still hasn’t played in a regular season NHL game.

“Obviously, you want to be up there. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” Johnson said. “But it’s nice to see those guys go up. We’re family and whenever any of the guys go up, you’re excited for them.”

Johnson has played in 59 games this season, one of two players who have only missed one game this season. In that span, the Spokane, Washington, native has registered 58 points, which led all active AHL players as of Wednesday, March 13.

“We’ve had a great team, and great coaching – that has helped me out a lot,” he said. “We’ve had a good year so far, and it’s getting down to the nitty gritty at the end here, and we’ve got to keep going.”

In his second year pro, Johnson already has experience finishing off a long playoff run.

After recording 68 points in 75 regular season games last season in Norfolk – 46 of which came after the calendar changed to 2012 – the 5-10, 183-pounder added 14 points in 14 playoff games, including four points in the Calder Cup-clincher.

“While we’re here we want to win another championship,” Johnson said. “That really makes you a better player and looks good on your resume and builds for the future.”

Johnson continued the point-per-game pace into this season, and although he had a goal drought that lasted 11 games throughout much of January, has scored 19 points in the 19 games since.

“It has a lot to do with the guys I play with and the team I’m on,” Johnson said. “Our team scores a lot of goals, and I play with a lot of guys who set me up. I might get the breakout pass and end up with the assist. It’s just one of those things. I play with great guys who have helped me become a better player, and I’ve had some fortunate bounces as well.”

Johnson is just sticking to his game. The rest will figure itself out soon enough.

“Hopefully, my time will come here eventually, whenever they need me,” he said. “At the same time, I’ve got to keep getting better and prove I’m deserving of it.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: Johnson's waiting game is coming to an end as he is reportedly being called up to Tampa Bay on Thursday. Vincent Lecavalier is on injured reserve with a lower body injury.