NEW YORK — Ross Johnston is well aware of the roster situation with the New York Islanders. Even for the casual observer, the uphill battle the 27-year-old is facing to make the roster is clear to see.
So when Johnston got his chance to be in the Islanders’ lineup for the preseason opener on Sunday night, he knew he needed to make the most of it.
“I think my game is pretty simple. I think I know what I bring to the team,” Johnston said. “Those other parts and obviously the numbers we have in the depth are kind of out of my control. When it’s time for me to go in and tow my line I try to do my job as best as I can. Team success is obviously the greater picture and whatever I can do to help the team that’s kind of why I’m here.”
The depth Johnston was referring to was is why his role with the Islanders this season is a bit unclear. The physical forward is one of several players vying to be an extra body upfront for the Islanders.
Richard Panik, Michael Dal Colle, Kieffer Bellows, Leo Komarov and Johnston are just a few of the names looking to the 13th forward for New York. Panik had been practicing with the fourth line during the first three days of training camp and skated with Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey on Sunday night.
Ross Johnston skated on the fourth line in Matt Martin’s spot on Sunday. He scored in the third period off a pass from Cal Clutterbuck to put the Islanders up by four.
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) September 27, 2021
It was a little offensive flair for a player primarily known for his physical, hard-nose style of play.
With 86 NHL games under his belt, Johnston has gotten chances to make a mark with the Islanders. Part of the problem, and one that he is facing once again this season, is the fact that even when he is playing well it’s been hard to keep him in the lineup.
Organizational depth is never a bad thing for a team, but for a player like Johnston, it has worked against him.
“There hasn’t been a lot of injuries to (Matt Martin), that’s where he sort of fits that role,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “I’ve used Ross obviously a little higher, but he can play. Through the preseason I told him I’m going to play him a lot in a few more games because he’s missed some time. In his role, we’ve had some good depth and unfortunately, we’ve had some people pencil ahead of him a little bit.”
Even now with Martin sidelined as he’s recovered from an injury, Johnston is not a sure thing to remain on the fourth line in the event that Martin isn’t ready for the start of the season. Panik appears to be first in line for that spot at the moment.
Trotz noted plenty of growth in Johnston’s game, specifically mentioning his wall play and scoring.
There is a chance Ross Johnston is back in the lineup on Tuesday when the Islanders face the Philadelphia Flyers in an exhibition game at Wells Fargo Center. The Islanders had the day off Monday and likely won’t make their roster available until before game time.
Johnston gave the Islanders plenty to appreciate in his first preseason game of the year, but it will take a lot for the grinder to leap frog some of the other players vying for the same role.
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