Ross Johnston is coming home.
The Charlottetown Islanders acquired the 20-year-old Suffolk native Friday from the Victoriaville Tigres. In return, the Islanders sent the Tigres’ 2015 first-round pick back to Victoriaville. The pick was part of the Yan-Pavel Laplante deal in December. After playing two seasons in Moncton and one in Victoriaville, Johnston is excited to be home.
“I know this team has the potential to win, and not just in the next two or three years, but win this upcoming year,” he said.
The six-foot-four, 230-pound winger is a power forward, who knows his skating has to improve, but he is confident he can play in the NHL.
“I believe I have all the skills and assets for it,” Johnston said. “If I put it all together and catch a break here or there, I think it is a possibility.”
All of those things will take care of itself in due time. Right now, his concern is to be ready to roll when training camp opens in August. Islanders’ general manger Grant Sonier is excited to have Johnston on board.
“From the moment I took the job we tried to get Ross here,” said the second-year general manager. “I think Ross Johnston is one of the most intriguing players in our league . . . The sky’s the limit for this kid.”
Sonier said he sees some similarities to former captain Jack Nevins at this time last year. Nevins worked hard in the off-season, became the captain, skated on the top line with two skilled rookies and ended up signing a pro contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
“Daniel Sprong broke into this league with Jack Nevins on his hip pocket,” Sonier said. “Skilled players feel a whole lot better when they have somebody out there that’s going to protect them.”
While that doesn’t mean Johnston is penciled in as Sprong’s linemate, it is a possibility.
“He’s got way underrated skills,” Sonier said of Johnston. “I think he can score 30 in this league.”
The general manager said he knows that’s a bold statement, but one he is comfortable making. And while goals are important, he added the winger would make an impact on the team and in games without scoring during games this coming season. Johnston said he is excited by the possibility of playing with the Islanders stable of young, skilled players, but is willing to accept whatever role the coaches ask him to fill.
“I’ll obviously work hard and try to work towards the top of the lineup,” he said. “Wherever they plug me, I’ll do what they ask.”
Johnston said Nevins deserves a lot of credit for the season he had and what he did for the youngsters.
“Players like him, (give) players like me . . . hope,” he said. “If you work hard it can come.”
Johnston is more of a lead by example type of player. He said he learned a lot when he was a youngster entering the league in Moncton from guys like Scott Trask and Patrick Delisle-Houde. He hopes to able to do the same for Islanders’ youth.