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Little Man, Big Winner

by Michael Sonday / Minnesota Wild

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Feature: A Young Veteran
There is one thing to know about Wild developmental camp invitee Tyler Johnson: wherever he plays, winning seems to follow.

Johnson, a Spokane, Washington native, has built an impressive hockey resume over the past few seasons, having won championships at the international and major junior level. In 2008 Johnson was the Finals MVP for his hometown Spokane Chiefs as they won the WHL Championship. Johnson was a rookie at the time, and just 17-years-old.

The offensive sparkplug played three years for the Chiefs, scoring 88 goals and notching 103 assists in 235 games. Over that span, he led the Chiefs in shorthanded goals with nine.

Johnson continued his winning ways at this year’s World Junior Championships in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The United States defeated Canada 6-5 in overtime to capture their first title since 2004, and just their second in the history of the tournament. Johnson was an integral part to the team’s success, scoring two goals, one of them shorthanded, and adding three assists. His play in the tournament did not go unnoticed by his peers.

“At the world juniors, he was the guy we could rely on to score goals, or kill a penalty,” said former USA teammate and Wild draft pick Jason Zucker. “Tyler is a shifty forward that does what it takes to win.”

Johnson values all the big game experience and pressure situations that he has been a part of during his amateur career. The opportunity of playing for the national team was special to Johnson’s development.

“Playing for Team USA was s a dream come true. Putting on the sweater was an unbelievable feeling,” Johnson said. “The gold medal game was insane. It was the time of my life, and it has made me a better hockey player today.”

Johnson has a plethora of skills at his disposal; possessing quick feet, soft hands, and he is very agile. The facet of Johnson’s game that could make him a valuable member of an NHL franchise is his ability to kill penalties and his suffocating defense. Both have been key components to his past success.

“In juniors I was a two-way player, I like to think of myself like that,” Johnson said. “I was always taught that when you play good defense, scoring chances come with it.”

Of course, the major knock on Johnson, and really the only reason he wasn’t drafted by an NHL team, is his size. At just 5-foot-9, 165-pounds, Johnson has had to prove himself at every level he has played.

“Every year, my size comes up,” he admitted. “When I started with the Chiefs, many questioned whether I could play at my size. I feel that I have proved the critics wrong. I try to play bigger than I really am by going in the corners and getting physical, I’m not scared of bigger players.”

Johnson, who is just 19 years old, is competing in his third NHL developmental camp overall and his second with the Wild. He sees this week of camp as an opportunity to prove his skill and determination, but is aware of the challenges ahead of him.

“I love the competitiveness of the camp,” Johnson stated. “We all are friends right now but we are all fighting for the same spots. It’s tough, but I feel it will help me improve as a player.”

Should he defy the odds and crack an NHL lineup, he would become the 10th Washington native to skate in the League. Johnson knows it will be difficult but views the NHL as an opportunity of a lifetime. He hopes his past success and experience of winning will translate into a contract with the Wild.

“Hopefully I can make the AHL team this fall,” he said. “My ultimate goal, is to be there.”

And if he does, Johnson will have won another one…for the little guys.
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