Blackhawks’ Tyler Johnson puts aside frustrations to help team clear up ‘gray areas’

PHILADELPHIA — Individually, Blackhawks forward Tyler Johnson has generated a solid season as a 33-year-old with a recent history of injuries.

For one thing, he has stayed healthier, at least outside of the month he missed with a foot injury. The Hawks’ win Saturday against the Flyers marked his 59th appearance of the season — his most since 2019-20, his final season with the Lightning.

Production-wise, his 16 goals are his most since 2018-19. And if he tallies four more points in the Hawks’ last eight games, getting to at least 33 points on the year, that would also represent his most since 2018-19.

But don’t try coming to Johnson himself with those silver linings. His dissatisfaction with the Hawks’ ugly 22-47-5 record covers any individual successes with a wet blanket in his mind.

“[It has been] a pretty rough year all the way around,” Johnson said this past week. “I don’t think you can be too happy about really anything.”

Is it really that bleak?

“You have to try to have a positive attitude,” he added. “Because if you don’t, it makes life miserable, and I would rather not be miserable. You have to realize that we’re very fortunate to be able to play hockey for a living and do what we do and be around a good group of guys.

“But it definitely takes a toll on you — especially since I’ve been here [since 2021 and] that’s basically how it’s been. It’s definitely frustrating in that respect. It grinds you a bit.”

Despite his frustrations about the fruitlessness of his three-year Chicago tenure — which may conclude this summer when his seven-year contract expires — Johnson remains engaged trying to help the Hawks’ next generation learn from what he calls “youthful mistakes.” They deserve leniency, but he believes it’s also important to correct errors before they become habits.

In full-team meetings with the coaching staff present (most often video-review sessions), he is one of the most vocal Hawks, asking questions about tactical intricacies and seeking clarity about things he or other guys may find confusing. That kind of boldness wouldn’t necessarily be encouraged in every locker room, but under coach Luke Richardson, it is.

“The game is so fast that there’s little gray areas and cracks in every system that you iron out,” Richardson said. “We’re not going to have all the answers, but it’s good to talk about them. [Tyler is] a very alert player, and he makes everybody else think about those little intangibles in the game.”

Johnson frequently references lessons from his Lightning tenure and did so again on this topic, mentioning how he knew exactly where every player would be in every situation in Tampa.

The Hawks are nowhere near that degree of cohesion, but every inch they move in that direction should be beneficial.

“Gray areas that you can make more black-and-white, it helps everyone in the long run,” Johnson said. “The more you can talk about it, the more you can figure your things out so everyone can be on the same page. If you just expect guys to make reads and make plays, your read is going to be different than mine, and it’s going to be different than the next guy’s.”

Many of his questions in those meetings pertain to how multiple players should interact within a given play. If a certain person is in position, where should the others be? If someone is out-of-position, then what? This is one instance where groupthink is preferable.

“There’s no right or wrong answers,” he added. “I just want everyone thinking the same way. You might think you want this play and everyone else wants this one. Well, you might not have a wrong answer, but we would rather you think like everybody else: ‘Let’s do it this way.'”

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