New York Islanders: Ross Johnston Can Be Missing Piece To Fourth Line

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11: Ryan Lomberg
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11: Ryan Lomberg /

Ross Johnston showed flashes with the New York Islanders of being a competent bottom six player. He should get a chance to play full time in 2017-2018.

Ever since the New York Islanders lost Matt Martin in free agency the fourth line has been on a steady decline. Was Matt Martin really the link that made that fourth line so good? It certainly looks that way.

The Islanders elected to extend Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas instead of signing Matt Martin to a long-term deal.

In 2016-2017, the first year without Martin, Cal Clutterbuck had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) with a 47.3 CF%. It was a decline from a very productive 2015-2016 season. He followed that up with an even worse season this past year.

In 76 games Clutterbuck produced only 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) while also having a career low CF% of 41.1. He has four years remaining at $3.5 million per year. Clutter has obviously declined since his departure.

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Then there’s Cizikas. He’s struggled to stay on the ice the past two years playing just 123 games out of the possible 164. While on the ice he wasn’t himself. In 2016-2017 he had 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) and then followed that up last year with a 17 point (seven goals, 10 assists) season.

Cizikas’ Corsi numbers also plummeted. It was down to a putrid 43.4 this past year. Clearly, the remaining members of the best fourth line in hockey are struggling without the human battering ram known as Matt Martin.

Luckily, the Isles have a very comparable player to Matt Martin in Ross Johnston. Johnston just played 24 games but he had six points in those games. That’s a pace of 21 points over a full season, and at $666,667 that kind of production is just fine.

Johnston brings a physical presence that was lacking from the fourth line these past two years. He had 46 hits in 24 games which is on pace for 157 hits over a full season. That’s more than Cizikas has had over the past two years.

Another plus that Johnston brings is his shooting percentage. He shot an oddly efficient 15.8 percent while Martin’s career high is 11.6 percent. Clutterbuck’s was just 7.9 while Cizikas was just 9.5 percent.

If Johnston can be a cheaper, more offensive effective version of Matt Martin the Islanders are in good shape. The New York Islanders bottom six was down-right poor the last two years and Johnston might be the guy who can get this unit back on track.

Next: Change for the sake of change

If both Cizikas and Clutterbuck are going to eat up $6.75 million against the cap you might as well add a more effective player for under a million. Fans fell in love with Johnston for his fighting, but he might end up being the Isles biggest role player in 2017-2018.