East Meadow, NY– Year in and year out, Ross Johnston shows up to training camp with the New York Islanders and continues to put in effort despite rarely receiving playing time.
This year, though, camp is different for the enforcer.
With many younger and cheaper players also vying for a spot on the team, there’s a real chance that Johnston doesn’t make the cut for the final roster, as the Islanders are over the salary cap.
Even still, Johnston has arrived at camp and continued to put in the same effort as always.
“It’s the same as every year,” Johnston told NYI Hockey Now. “Prove the work you’ve put in this summer, see how it translates on the ice and see where all the pucks, or, I guess, chips fall where they may at the end of camp.”
Johnston had an assist in the Islanders’ 5-4 win over the New York Rangers on Sep. 30, but it was his actions in the game between the two teams earlier in the week that received more notice.
On Sep. 26, Johnston was quick to come to the defense of two of his younger teammates. After Matthew Maggio took a knee-on-knee hit from Vincent Trocheck, Johnston had no issue taking a four-minute double-minor for roughing by giving Trocheck a face full of his glove.
Later in the game, Johnston found himself back in the penalty box again, this time for fighting Matt Rempe, who delivered a dangerous hit to the back of Isaiah George.
“I love the fight,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said following the game. “Certainly, he does fill the role for us, and he does his job. I don’t know if you ever love a four-minute penalty, but he’s trying to play the role that he has, and he’s trying to make the hockey team as well.”
Johnston has maintained his role for the last six years as a supportive teammate within the Islanders locker room and as a source of intimidation for opponents on the ice. But is that a role the Islanders can continue to afford?
Johnston’s contract pays him $1.1 million per season for the next three years. It’s not a steep price, but it’s also difficult to justify for a player who spends most games watching from the press box. In his last four full NHL seasons, Johnston has averaged 22 games per year and played in just 16 in 2022-23.
Johnston is aware of the position he’s in, and it’d be easy for him to have a poor attitude or try and overcorrect to save his job. Rather than that, he’s continued to play his role.
“Obviously, everybody wants to play every night,” Islanders forward Matt Martin said. “I think that goes for every player. It’s disappointing when you’re not in the lineup, but he’s a positive guy. He comes to work every day, whether he’s in the lineup or not, and takes care of his business. We are professionals, and I think he handles it as well as anyone.”
Johnston’s time with the Islanders might be nearing its close, as the team only has two preseason games remaining. If that’s the case, Johnston knows he has nothing to feel sorry for.
“Every year, you come into the same training camp and try to earn a job no matter what the situation is,” Johnston said. “You’re going to do what you do. All you do is try to make the decision hard on the coaches, and whatever they decide to do, [you have] no regrets.”