SUFFOLK, P.E.I. – Ross Johnston was working in a hayfield when news of his four-year NHL contract with the New York Islanders was released.
“I signed my deal and then I got a call from Dad (Frank), who said he needed someone to run a tractor and haul bales,” the 24-year-old explained to The Guardian on Monday night.
Johnston said the papers were signed Monday, but a lot of work by both parties was done during the past few weeks. He is appreciative of the confidence Isles president of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello and the team have shown in him.
“I’m honoured and grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Lamoriello and the Islanders organization have given me,” Johnston said. “The Islanders committed to me for four more years, and I am very committed to them.”
Johnston was playing for the Victoriaville Tigres in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2013-14 when a New York Islanders area scout approached him. Johnston was later invited to the fall camp.
He was traded to the Charlottetown Islanders for 2014-15, his overage season, and was a big part of helping lead the young squad.
Johnston went to the NHL team’s camp that fall but sustained a broken jaw that kept him out of Charlottetown’s lineup for two months. Johnston signed a three-year, entry-level contract in March 2015 and made his professional debut with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers after Charlottetown’s season was over.
Johnston said he has appreciated New York’s support throughout his career.
“They stuck with me after I broke my jaw,” he said. “I’ve grown as a person and a player from the organization over the last three years. They've obviously shaped partly who I am over the last three years.”
The rugged forward spent most of 2015-16 in the AHL and the ECHL but got up to the Isles to make his NHL debut in the final game of the regular season against the Philadelphia Flyers. He played the full 2016-17 season in the AHL, where he started last season before getting called up to play 24 games with New York to end the year.
“My first and second year, I wasn't ready, just plain and simple, I wasn't ready to play at the NHL level,” Johnston acknowledged Monday, but he said staff were committed to helping him work on the things to improve his chances of getting to the top league in the world.
“I was very honoured to get the opportunity to play at the NHL level (this year) and I was fortunate enough to put together some good games.”
Johnston said he is working out at Dynamic Fitness in Charlottetown this summer and skating in Charlottetown and Pownal. He is continuing to work on improving his overall game with an emphasis on strengthening his lower body and improving his skating.
He is looking forward to getting to camp and rejoining his teammates. He will also get a chance to spend more time with Matt Martin, who was with the Isles in Johnston’s first pro season but spent the past two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“He’s a guy that I drew comparisons to through my style of play,” Johnston said.
He is also looking forward to meeting another physical player in Leo Komarov, another former Maple Leaf who recently signed with New York.
Johnston said he reached out to Summerside native Noah Dobson last month after the Isles selected the defenceman in the first round of the NHL draft.
“I was excited for him,” Johnston said. “Obviously It's great to have a little more P.E.I. blood within the system.”
That Island blood includes Johnston’s buddy, and former Charlottetown Islanders teammate, Ryan MacKinnon, who signed with the Isles organization earlier this year after finishing his university career at UPEI.
Who – A 24-year-old Suffolk native who signed four-year contract with the New York Islanders on Monday. Terms of the one-way NHL deal were not released.
Size, position – Six-foot-five, 235-pound left-winger.
Season League GP G A Pts. PIM
2017-18 NHL 24 3 3 6 62
2017-18 AHL 38 3 8 11 113
2016-17 AHL 62 8 7 15 135
2015-16 NHL 1 0 0 0 4
2015-16 AHL 39 1 3 4 79
2014-15 AHL 2 0 0 0 0
2014-15 QMJHL 44 18 14 32 124