It may not have been a move Lou Lamoriello hoped would happen, but when he placed Ross Johnston on waivers on Oct. 9, the Anaheim Ducks jumped at the opportunity to add the enforcer to their roster.
First suiting up for the Isles during the 2015-16 season, Johnston essentially became the fourth member of the Islanders' "Identity Line," alongside Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck. Used sparingly during his seven seasons with the organization, Johnston appeared in 134 games during his time on Long Island.
Johnston played first line minutes at times, used as almost a personal protector for Mat Barzal, but was mostly deployed for his toughness and willingness to drop the gloves with anybody in the league.
With three years remaining on his contract with an AAV on $1.1M, Pat Verbeek and the Ducks helped the Isles clear some desperately needed cap space, taking a player off their hands who was going to spend most of his time watching from the press box. Anaheim needed an enforcer type player, especially with young, budding superstars like Mason MacTavish, Jamie Drysdale, and the exuberant Trevor Zegras.
Johnston has appeared in 19 games this season, contributing two assists while averaging 7:30 of ice time per game. He's dropped the gloves three times, with the most recent against the Michael McCarron of the Nashville Predators on Nov. 14.
While Johnston's usage was limited, he became a fan favorite and a significant part of the locker room. He showed up to the arena every day, knowing his role and doing it to the best of his abilities.
"One of my favorite guys that I've coached," said Lane Lambert. "Just a good guy to be around. He went through some tough times with being healthy scratched a lot, and always came to the rink, always worked, always had a good attitude, and nice to see him get an opportunity."
Making his first appearance against his former team tonight, Johnston will likely get a video tribute tonight at UBS Arena, but if the opportunity presents itself, he won't hesitate to drop the gloves with a former teammate.