He wasn’t going to get it with the Charlottetown Islanders this season, so the major junior squad recently sent him back to the Saint John Vitos major midget club.
“He’s really, really close, but history tells us it’s a big step up for the 16-year-olds,” Isles head coach and general manager Jim Hulton said. “I don't want him to lose the confidence and kind of the swagger he brings. I want him to keep that and enhance that.”
While the Islanders have not set their roster, they don’t have a 16-year-old player in training camp. The team’s top two picks from the 2017 draft, forwards Brett Budgell and Brad Morrissey, left camp to protect their NCAA eligibility. Johnston was one of the team’s two fourth-round picks after scoring 11 goals with 23 assists for 34 points in 33 games for the Vitos. It is the second straight year the Isles won’t have a 16-year-old playing regularly in the lineup.
“As a staff, we’re very, very intrigued by what Drew brings to the table. We think he’s going to be a mainstay of our future, but we want to continue to develop his offensive game and keep that confidence where it needs to be,” Hulton said, noting Johnston will be an affiliate player with the Isles.
He added there wasn’t much more Johnston could have done, noting he just needs to mature and grow as a player. If he stayed in Charlottetown, he would have played on the fourth line and Hulton expected he would play in all situations in Saint John, which would help his development more than playing sparingly in major junior.
Hulton said midget players want to make the jump after being drafted by junior clubs and are often disappointed to be sent back.
“Because they’re so competitive, they’ll take on whatever role that’s necessary to stay in the lineup,” the bench boss said referring to the junior level. “They lose their confidence and their ability to make plays because they learn to just play safe to stay in the lineup.”