TAMPA — Pickleball will have to wait.
Tyler Johnson will put off one of his favorite offseason training regimens to don the red, white and blue jersey and represent the United States at the World Championships in Minsk, Belarus.
The events starts today, when the U.S. takes on the host country at 1:45 p.m. in a preliminary game in Group A, which also includes Switzerland, Russia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Finland and Germany. Group play concludes May 20, and the quarterfinals start May 22.
Johnson is one of six Lightning players or prospects in the tournament, joining goaltenders Kristers Gudlevskis (Latvia), Andrei Vasilevskiy (Russia) and Jaroslav Janus (Slovakia), defenseman Dmitry Korobov (Belarus) and right wing Richard Panik (Slovakia).
Johnson, 23, set a Lightning rookie record with 24 goals and is one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy awarded to the NHL Rookie of the Year. He is competing for his country for the second time after helping the United States win a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships.
“Any time you can wear the red, white and blue, it’s a tremendous honor,’’ said Johnson, who enjoys playing pickleball, a paddle sport similar to racquet sports such as badminton or tennis. “I had a great time doing it at World Juniors, and obviously, I wish we were in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but for me to have this opportunity is something special, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.’’
Johnson has come a long way in his career. Passed over in the NHL draft while playing junior hockey in his hometown of Spokane, Wash., he won an American Hockey League championship in his first year as pro and earned AHL MVP honors in his second year. His successful rookie season in the NHL helped the Lightning reach the playoffs.
“Going into the season, I was hoping I was going to make the team,” he said. “... Things worked out well. I had some great opportunities, was able to play with some great players. It’s just been a fun year, a year that I’m always going to remember, and I’m very fortunate for everything that has happened.’’
After the Lightning were swept by Montreal in the first round of the playoffs, Johnson has the opportunity to extend his season and continue to grow as a player.
“It’s a playoff-like atmosphere,’’ Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. “Hopefully, they get into the elimination games that you have to win, and the more of those type of games you can play the more comfortable you are. I really like it for our young guys.”