Simply. Ross Johnston is a good player to have. That’s why the New York Islanders kept him. Compare him to Matt Martin and Johnston might even be better.
Ross Johnston was one of 23 players to make the New York Islanders 2019-20 roster. Initially, it looks odd. The 6’5″ man-mountain performs a role that Matt Martin already fills. A role Johnston might be better at.
Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck’s near symbiotic relationship on the fourth line was on full display last season. The fourth line started games and periods for Barry Trotz and was easily able to transition from defense to offense.
So why keep a guy that performs a role that’s already covered by a guy who’s doing so well in that role? Cause that other guy, Ross Johnston, is pretty darn good.
Let me clarify my “pretty darn good” statement. I don’t want to make it seem like Ross Johnston could become some top-six player if only he got the chance. What I mean is that when it comes to the role of a tough fourth liner, one that could add some depth offense, Ross Johnston is pretty darn good.
We already know he’s a tough player to play against. We know he’s an intimidating figure on the ice. If fists start flying Ross Johnston is a guy you want on your side.
That isn’t debatable.
But when it comes to his output on the ice, that, unfortunately, gets tossed aside. Ross Johnston is a pretty good player to have on your fourth line.
First, his production. In 17 games last season, Johnston put up four points. That’s a pace of 19 points. Matt Martin scored 14 last season, in 67 games, a pace of 17 over a full season.
On the note of comparing Johnston to Martin, the underlying number favor Johnston over Martin. Johnston is better Martin when it comes to shot-share (Corsi), high-danger chances, and expected goals for.
*Stats from NaturalStatTrick and are 5on5 and per 60
If not for the relationship that Martin has with Cizikas and Clutterbuck Ross Johnston would be the man on that fourth line. And he could do a pretty good job with that role. If he ever got it.
Going forward, Johnston might just get that role on a full-time basis. Matt Martin’s contract ($2.5 million AAV) is over at the end of the season, while Johnston has another two years at a $1 million cap hit.
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Is Johnston better than some of the players that the New York Islanders sent down to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers? No. But in terms of players sitting on the scratch-pad and getting a few opportunities when the situation suits it Johnston is the right player for the job.