Lecavalier was placed on injured reserve as a result of a hit he sustained in the third period of Tampa Bay's 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. Although the injured-reserve status puts Lecavalier out of action for a minimum of seven days (retroactive to Tuesday), Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he expects Lecavalier will be sidelined longer than that.
"Lecavalier plays a lot of minutes," Yzerman said. "It's a big hole in our lineup. He's one of our key faceoff guys and power-play guys. It's a difficult hole to fill, but we have to try to look at something positive. Someone's going to come down from Syracuse (American Hockey League) and get an opportunity."
That someone will be Tyler Johnson, an undrafted center who leads the AHL with 32 goals and leads the Lightning affiliate with 58 points. Johnson will make his NHL debut Thursday night when Tampa Bay hosts the New York Islanders.
"He's a top goal-scorer in the American Hockey League," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.
"He's done it all, pretty much the same as [Cory] Conacher. We know that he's a smaller centerman [5-foot-9]. He's really smart defensively. He does it all, basically. It's a question now, can he do it at this level? We know he can do it down there. He dominates in the American league."
Even if Johnson performs well, there is no question that Lecavalier's absence will be felt.
"Obviously we will be missing Vinny," Boucher said. "He was just coming back from his previous problem [a bruised foot]. He had a goal and an assist last game. That's our season right there -- adversity. We all go through it.
"You can't put the pressure on Johnson to do what Vinny has done with the experience he has had in his 1,000-plus games in the NHL. ... He'll come in and I'll tell him what I tell all the young guys: Come in and do what you normally do. Go out and play your game."
Asked what he will tell Johnson prior to his first NHL game, Boucher said, "First, I won’t mention the name Lecavalier. That'll help."
Here are the projected lineups for the Islanders and Lightning: