In the middle of the 2014 Calder awad conversation for the National Hockey League's rookie of the year is both Lightning forward Tyler Johnson and Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon. When the two faced each other on Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, it was Johnson that made the chatter around his name louder by netting his first career hat trick in Tampa Bay's 5-2 win over Colorado.
Johnson's three goal night gives him 34 points on the season. The 16 goals and 18 assists he has scored ties him with Mackinnon (17 goals and 17 assists) for first place in points-scored among rookies. Johnson's all-out effort Saturday night also extended his point streak to a career-high five games, proving why he belongs in rookie of the year talks.
The twenty-four year old forward is only the second Lightning rookie in franchise history to net a hat trick. The other? Lightning forward Steven Stamkos.
Lightning Coach Jon Cooper, whose coaching of Johnson goes back to their time in the AHL in 2011-12 with the Norfolk Admirals, said he was impressed with Johnson's effort against some of Colorado's best forwards.
"It was fairly decent timing on Tyler's part," Cooper said in post-game comments. "Net three in this game and he was on it tonight and he primarily played matched up against Duchene's line tonight so that's no cake walk. For them to get three against them it's a pretty impressive effort."
For Johnson, his focus is on the victory and that is what takes precedence over his personal play. After all, he needs to stay focused as the Lightning are right in the thick of the fight to be the top team in the Eastern conference with 67 points which is third in the conference.
"It's better to get the win," Johnson said in the locker room after Saturday night's win. "I'm glad that's over with and now I have one of those (hat tricks), so it's good. It's one of those things that you have to get lucky with and tonight was a good night for me and I couldn't have done it without my line mates. I just happened to be in the right spot."
Johnson is the most successful when he scores goals from the bad areas, the "dirty" angles where goals might not always come so easy. He can fit into those areas, after, he is 5-9.
"You have to go to those dirty areas to score goals and he was doing that tonight, "Cooper said. He was playing a hell of a game on both ends of the ice."
Most likely, hockey fans will be more familiar with the play of MacKinnon, the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft, over Johnson Afterall, Johnson went undrafted and unnoticed and MacKinnon had an immediate impact in the Avalanche's lineup.
Before signing with Tampa Bay in March 2011, Johnson played four seasons in junior hockey with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs and spent two seasons in the AHL where he was the MVP last season, scoring 37 goals and 65 points in 62 games.
When Steven Stamkos broke his tibia in November (and some time before that) Johnson started playing a bigger role offensively. Johnson, along with his linemates, have played important roles in Tampa Bay's elusive offense, which launched Johnson into a Calder trophy candidate.
Throughout its 22 years as a franchise, Tampa Bay has yet to boast a Calder trophy winner.
While playing a larger role, Johnson has earned more experience in all kinds of on ice situations to possibly nab the rookie of the year honor, including anchoring the Lightning's top line with Martin St. Louis and fellow rookie Ondrej Palat. Johnson also sees time on the penalty kill, where MacKinnon is somewhat untested.
Regardless of age, both Johnson and MacKinnon are deserving Calder trophy winners.
Johnson isn't focused on the personal accolades though; his focus is on something much more important.
"I wasn't really thinking about that (Calder trophy) that's a whole different thing, Johnson said. "I'm just focusing on the team right now. Anytime we can get a win, we play well obviously points are going to happen and that beats that so I don't really think about it."
He might if he wins it.