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Tyler Johnson 'rejuvenated' after injury

Lightning forward fully recovered from wrist ailment that plagued him last season

by Corey Long / Correspondent

TAMPA -- Although Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson didn't want to make excuses for his struggles last season, it was clear the wrist injury he sustained during the 2015 Stanley Cup Final was still bothering him.

Last week, Johnson told the Tampa Bay Times his wrist was so weak that he couldn't do a push-up until January. During his session with the media Thursday, he went into further detail about how much the ligament damage in his wrist affected his game.

"To be honest with you, if you wanted to say when did I feel like I was before the injury, I would say probably July of this year," Johnson said. "I didn't have any strength in it during the season because you can't really do too much working out once the season starts."

Johnson said he didn't have the opportunity to get in the gym and work on strength training until after the season, and now the issues are in the past.

"I feel great, I feel rejuvenated and ready to go," Johnson said. "I feel strong, which is something different. I don't think about it anymore. It's not an issue at all."

Video: Tyler Johnson scores the OT winner off his backside

Johnson's 2015-16 season was one to forget in his mind. He admitted to being tentative on offense and it showed in his numbers. After having a breakout season in 2014-15 with 29 goals and 43 assists in 77 regular-season games, Johnson's totals dropped to 14 goals and 24 assists in 69 games last season.

Johnson started to look more like the player that was named to the NHL All-Star Game in 2015 during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when had seven goals and 10 assists in 17 games. The offensive outburst was needed to help the Lightning advance to the Eastern Conference Final despite missing captain and leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos for all but one postseason game because of a blood clot.

"Once the playoffs started I considered it a clean slate for me." Johnson said. "I tried to push everything aside and do the best I can. I thought I was OK in the playoffs. I could have been better."

Johnson will have the opportunity to show he's back to his form of two seasons ago. He likely will be centering the 'Triplets' line with wings Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, who is an unsigned restricted free agent.

Johnson will be a restricted free agent after the season and said that the disappointments of last season has him motivated to play his best hockey of his career.

"I believe I'm my toughest critic and I always like to think I have a chip on my shoulder," Johnson said. "I know I can be better than what I was last year. I never had a season like that, never had to worry about injuries that linger. I'm excited about this season and I can't wait until it gets going."

Part of Johnson's motivation could also be drawn from being left off of Team USA's final roster for the World Cup of Hockey 2016. Johnson said he watched the games and it was tough to see Team USA struggle in the tournament without him being in a position to help. Team USA lost all three preliminary-round games.

"I mean I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed," Johnson said. "I wish I was playing, I wanted to play, they went [another] route. There's not much I can do about it besides try to be better so that next time they pick a team I will be on it."

Some analysts, like NBC Sports Network's Anson Carter, openly questioned how Johnson could be left off of Team USA given its scoring deficiencies. Johnson, however, said it's easy to second guess things now and believes the increased depth and talent of players available to Team USA has made it a lot tougher to put together a roster everyone can agree on.

"I was actually pretty thrilled Anson Carter knew who I was," Johnson said. "Everyone has a different opinion. We have so many quality players here you could make that team a hundred different ways. Unfortunately it wasn't my year this year but hopefully next Olympics or World Cup or whatever it may be, I get to be on it. That's up to me to play better so they can't leave me off."

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm3: Johnson trims deficit on drop feed

Johnson is also excited about the offseason the Lightning had with Stamkos, defenseman Victor Hedman and forward Alex Killorn all signing long-term contracts to remain in Tampa Bay. He wasn't surprised the core of the Lightning stayed together, and credits the organization led by owner Jeff Vinik and general manager Steve Yzerman for creating a first-class environment.

"If I was a betting man, I would definitely have bet on [players staying]," Johnson said. "I think we're all happy where we're at. We want to win, we want to do it together and we want to do it here."

There are expectations the Lightning will win the Stanley Cup this season, but Johnson said they can't get caught up in them outside of the locker room. 

"We've accomplished a lot and we've done a lot but at the same time that doesn't really matter," Johnson said. "This time of year, every team starts 0-0 and it doesn't matter that we won a conference title two years ago. Whether we're picked first or last we're thinking we're a team that's going to win. Obviously we're happy people have faith in us and want us to do well and think we have a chance to do well, but at the same time, we have our own expectations and that's to win."

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