Tyler Johnson, the 24-year-old budding star of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was at the Wild’s 2010 development camp and in a Wild uniform at the 2009 and 2010 prospect tournaments as an invitee.
He might be the “one that got away,” but that doesn’t mean the Wild didn’t try to sign him.
Johnson, who leads the NHL in playoff goals, was draft-eligible three years in a row. There were 632 kids drafted in those three drafts. Nobody, including Tampa Bay, drafted him.
In 2009, a few months after Chuck Fletcher was hired as Wild general manager, scout Paul Charles invited Johnson to the Wild’s prospect tournament in Traverse City, Mich. Teams do this mostly for the purpose of filling out rosters.
Johnson played well in the tournament, returned to Spokane of the WHL, scored 36 goals and 71 points in 64 games, wasn’t drafted by anybody again and was invited to the Wild’s development camp a few weeks later. He impressed and was invited back for the Traverse City tournament.
The Wild was very interested in signing Johnson after the tournament, but he hurt a shoulder early in his first game and missed the rest of the tournament. The decision was made to let him go back and play his overage year of junior.
Coincidentally, the Wild signed Johnson’s Spokane teammate Jared Spurgeon after that same Traverse City tournament (Johnson and Spurgeon won the Memorial Cup together in 2008). Spurgeon was drafted by the Islanders in 2008 but was not signed by the June 1, 2010, deadline. He went back into the 2010 draft, wasn’t drafted by any of the 30 teams and thus became a free agent, eventually signing with the Wild.
Johnson had a monster season in Spokane in 2010-11 (53 goals, 115 points). He received contract offers from Tampa Bay, Minnesota and what has since been reported as Chicago.
Johnson said he sat down with his father and went over the depth charts of those three teams. In the 2010 draft, the Wild selected Mikael Granlund, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker. Johnson decided a clearer path to the NHL and more opportunity came with the Lightning.
Johnson might have been the late bloomer of the century. Not drafted three years in a row by 30 NHL teams. Not invited to prospect tournaments and development camps by 29 teams, including Tampa Bay. Passed over 632 times by 30 teams and signed as a free agent after a tremendous overage year in junior.
The rap on Johnson was his size (5 feet 9). He certainly wasn’t a secret. He won a Memorial Cup, combined for 132 points from 2008-10 and played on the U.S. world junior team in 2009 and 2010.
This is not the first time a little guy made NHL teams look stupid.
Johnny Gaudreau was passed over 103 times in 2011 before Calgary took him.
Dan Boyle was undrafted, signed with the Florida Panthers because former Miami University coach Billy Davidge was a scout there, eventually was traded to rival Tampa Bay and became a star.
Martin St. Louis, a future Hall of Famer, was undrafted and bought out by the Calgary Flames.
Spurgeon, unsigned by the Islanders, undrafted again by 30 teams, coming off a solid playoff, will next season be a $3.6 million hockey player and is a year away from getting a big, long-term contract.
Ray Whitney, coincidentally a former Spokane player, was placed on waivers by his hometown Edmonton Oilers and picked up by the Florida Panthers. He scored 32 goals that season and ended a 1,330-game playing career with a 2006 Stanley Cup.
Johnson is no doubt the one that “got away” from the Wild. But hindsight is frequently harsh. Johnson’s shoulder injury turned out to be back luck for the Wild, and a great break for the Lightning.