Though the old-school enforcer of the 90s has seemed to fade out in this day and age of the NHL, Ross Johnston could be considered the NY Islanders version of the enforcer 2.0. Not only is the 6'5 230 lbs. Prince Edward Island native one of the most feared fighters in the league, but he also can affect the game with his on-ice play.
Last season could be considered a career year for Johnston, as the 28-year-old finished with career highs in assists (5), points (7), average time-on-ice (10:16), and games played (32).
Cracking the lineup has been anything but easy for Johnston as he seems to be the fourth member of the Islanders' fourth line behind Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck. Last season, once season-ending surgery shut down Clutterbuck for the remainder of the year, Johnston was given his chance to be a regular in the lineup. His sheer size, strength, and underrated skating for a player of his measurements allowed him to easily transition into Clutterbuck's role.
At times, the fourth line seemed like a shell of their old selves from top to bottom. A congested schedule and frequent stoppages due to COVID outbreaks seemed to affect the entire team, not just the energy line.
Just days before the puck dropped on opening night last season, GM Lou Lamoriello inked Johnston to a four-year, $4.4M extension with the Isles. The term on the deal is confirmation that Lamoriello sees Johnston as an integral part of the lineup, not just a fourth-line fill-in.
As Martin and Clutterbuck head into the back-nine of their careers, Johnston is getting more and more opportunities, whether it be due to injury or to give an extra needed spark to the lineup.
As training camp is a few weeks away, it seems that Johnston will likely start as the 13th/14th forward with Kieffer Bellows. As we saw last year, former head coach Barry Trotz at times down the stretch, preferred Johnston to Martin. Johnston will likely compete head to head with Martin for that final spot on the fourth line come opening night and with two years more on his contract, Johnston could soon succeed Martin if he's bringing more to the table.
Johnston is undoubtedly limited in his abilities. He won't go out and give the team 15 goals and 15 assists, but his value comes elsewhere. He sticks up for teammates, gives 100% effort every night, and chips in on the score sheet where he can. Johnston could be a regular in many NHL lineups, but for now, he will fight for his spot as a member of the Islanders. And like many of his opponents can attest to, Johnston puts up a pretty good fight.