With the New York Islanders desperately looking for guys to step up after a handful of injuries in the early season, Ross Johnston has been one of those players. With fighting in the NHL nearly non-existent, there are fewer and fewer big enforcers in the league, making guys like Johnston even more valuable.
While Johnston might be the best fighter in the league, he has done more than just rack up penalty minutes, as he may end up being the new fourth-line winger on the Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck line.
Replacing Matt Martin
For much of the past few years, the Islanders’ fourth-line left winger has been Matt Martin, but after he left Friday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators with an injury, he is expected to miss 4 to 6 weeks.
While he played on the third line Sunday in the Islanders’ 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, Johnston made a huge impact scoring a goal and dropping the gloves with Chris Stewart. It was the second time those two tried to fight, as the officials broke up the first scuffle before each player was able to throw any punches.
“You don’t want to wish an injury on anybody on your team, but it’s an opportunity, and I am looking to take advantage of it,” Johnston said.NHL.com
Incredibly in the first period on Sunday, Johnston had 1:28 of ice time and was two-thirds of the way to a Gordie Howe hat-trick with a goal and a fight along with his two-minute roughing penalty.
One thing the Islanders’ fourth line has always done so well is play extremely physical hockey and score timely goals. If Johnston can develop into a better two-way player, he definitely has a future perhaps on the fourth line with Cizikas and Clutterbuck while Martin is out, as they routinely play against the opposition’s most lethal lines.
While Johnston is known as one of the tougher guys in the NHL, he has had a knack for scoring goals in his opportunities. He has played in 45 career games and has 5 goals and 6 assists. For a guy that plays less than seven minutes per night, he would be on pace for about 10 goals and 20 points in a regular season.
He always tends to be a guy that racks up close to 100 penalty minutes in every league he has played at, but he has also been someone that has had some goal-scoring ability, netting 42 in his four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before playing briefly in the American Hockey League with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
As mentioned, there are such few players in the league that are known for just fighting. Johnston has shown he is more than just that and is capable of having a solid NHL career similar to a guy like Ryan Reaves.
One thing in the future he can possibly be is a guy in the power play that cleans up rebounds and screens goaltenders. Virtually all of his goals have come within feet of the net, and he can be extremely hard to move if he sticks his body there on the man-advantage.
Johnston and the rest of the team will have four days off to prepare for their matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday at the Coliseum. It should be a good opportunity for Johnston to skate with one of the four lines during practice, as he usually skates with the extra forwards on a line. On a team without one legitimate goal scorer, anytime he can contribute offensively, the Islanders will be a better team.
Plus it is nice to have someone that will stick up for his teammates especially with a bunch of rookies playing regularly. There probably isn’t anyone in the league that Johnston won’t be willing to fight should he need to.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.