Ross Johnston is looking to prove he can play a larger role for the New York Islanders this season.
The 25-year-old Suffolk native and his Islanders’ teammates begin the on-ice component of training camp today.
“You have to earn a spot on the team and prove to them you can play and prove you can be in the lineup each and every night, so that’s my goal,” he said following a skate in Pownal in August.
Johnston, entering his fifth season as a pro, is in the second year of a four-year deal, but he’s taking nothing for granted.
“Your job can be taken. There are no guarantees,” he said. “I’m aware of that and I always look forward to going back and earning my spot each and every year.”
Johnston only played 17 games last season as the Isles added players during the off-season, leaving Johnston fighting to get into the lineup.
“It’s tough,” he acknowledged, “but with that comes opportunities to work on little parts of your game. . . I believe leaving at the end of the year I came out a better player than I went in.”
Johnston’s game is based around using his six-foot-five, 235-pound frame to his advantage.
It’s about puck possession and controlling the play below the hash marks. He worked on it a lot last year in practice and continued trying to strengthen that aspect of his game during the off-season. He also continued to work on his skating.
While the game continues to get faster, Johnston and others believe there’s still a place in the game for physical play.
In New York, Johnston has a number of players he can learn from. Guys like Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck all play with grit like Johnston.
“Being able to play with those guys that (have) a similar role to me and work hard for everything they get pays dividends,” Johnston said. “You can talk to them and they understand. You can also see what they work on.”
Johnston said veteran defenceman Luca Sbisa helped him a lot last year as they pushed each other to improve.
Johnston began his junior career with the Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals. He played parts of two Quebec Major Junior Hockey League seasons with the Moncton Wildcats, a year with the Victoriaville Tigres before ending his junior career with the Charlottetown Islanders in 2014-15.
He split most of his first pro season between the AHL and ECHL before making his NHL debut in April 2016 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Need to know
Who – A 25-year-old hockey player from Suffolk.
NHL team – New York Islanders.
Height/weight/position – Six-foot-five, 235-pound left-winger.
Season League GP G A Pts. PIM
2015-16 AHL 39 1 3 4 79
2015-16 ECHL 13 4 7 11 23
2015-16 NHL 1 0 0 0 4
2016-17 AHL 62 8 7 15 135
2017-18 AHL 38 3 8 11 113
2017-18 NHL 24 3 3 6 62
2018-19 NHL 17 1 3 4 23
Pre-season – The Islanders take on the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday and Detroit Red Wings on Monday, Sept. 23 at Nassau Coliseum.