Johnson, 24, is having the kind of season that is showing his Calder Trophy nomination last season was no fluke. With more than half the season remaining, the diminutive center is on pace to increase his point total from last season by more than 30 points.
As of Monday night, Johnson is in a tie for 12th in points with 34 in 34 games played. Only six players in the league, including some of the league’s elite in Nicklas Backstrom, Claude Giroux, Sidney Crosby, and Ryan Getzlaf, have more assists than Johnson. And before you stop to say he’s simply benefitting from spending time on the ice with one of the league’s premier goal scorers in Stamkos, it’s worth noting that Johnson and Stamkos have played a mere 17:23 of 5-on-5 hockey alongside each other. Johnson and Stamkos haven’t even combined for a single goal, for Stamkos or otherwise.
What Johnson is benefitting from is being part of one of the most dynamic lines in the league, a trio that includes Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. With Kucherov and Palat beside him, Johnson has turned into a bona fide point-per-game player this season.
With 10 goals and 24 assists already, he’s on pace to break the 80-point plateau. And of the 34 games he’s played in 2014-15, he’s only been held off the scoresheet in 10. Not bad for a sophomore player.
Though some will look at Johnson’s underlying stats and say that he’s not necessarily pushing the play by himself, the ability of the three young players – each of Johnson, Kucherov, and Palat are under the age of 25 – when paired together makes for an incredible threat. Johnson’s 5-on-5 Corsi For is 54.6 percent, and when the score is close, that number is seeing a bump up to 55.1 percent.
When on the ice at 5-on-5, Johnson and his linemates are scoring more than 67 percent of the goals, too. Consider that the Lightning can roll out Stamkos to tire out the other team’s top defensive unit and then coach Jon Cooper can send Johnson and his line onto the ice, a line that has been dominating opponents. There are few better one-two punches in the league.
One of the things that makes Johnson such a threat is his prowess at both ends of the ice. A complete player, the young center is playing on a top-15 power play in the league and has also carved out a spot for himself on the second penalty kill unit. Aside from Stamkos, Palat, and Valtteri Filppula, no Lightning forward plays more minutes than Johnson.
And they aren't easy minutes, either. Of all the Lightning centers, only one, Brian Boyle, takes defensive zone faceoffs on a more consistent basis and no forward, regardless of position, plays tougher competition from game-to-game than the 5-foot-9 native of Spokane, Wash.
Johnson didn’t pick up any hardware last season, but finished third in Calder voting and got a single third place vote for the Selke Trophy. It’s likely he won’t take home an end of year award this season, either. But that’s probably just fine by Johnson. Because as long as opposition coaches underrate his ability, he can keep making them pay.