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Drew Johnston is going to play junior A hockey in his home province.
The 19-year-old native of Saint John, N.B., who played the past 2 ½ seasons with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Charlottetown Islanders, signed with the Grand Falls Rapids of the Maritime Junior Hockey League on Monday night.
It reunites Johnston with coach Brad MacKenzie. The Charlottetown native was an assistant coach with the Islanders before earning the head coaching role in Grand Falls for the 2019-20 season.
““I like Drew’s style of play,” MacKenzie said Tuesday morning. “He plays hard. He’s an aggressive player and I think we’re going to see more offence from Drew at this level than he maybe had the chance to show at the Quebec league level.”
The connection with the head coach should help the transition.
“I think it’s a real big plus,” said Islanders head coach and general manager Jim Hulton. “He’s got a built-in comfort zone already with Brad. Brad has a great program going there, and I think it’s a situation that works for everybody.”
Johnston, a left-shot right-winger, had two goals and three assists in 14 games this season with the first-place Isles (12-2-0-0). He had 18 penalty minutes and was a minus-1.
“I just think he needed a fresh start,” said Hulton, noting they tried to trade him and had him on waivers. “There weren’t any takers in our league.”
Charlottetown drafted him in the fourth round (66th overall) in the 2017 draft. The Woodstock Slammers drafted him in the second round (16th overall) that same summer. The Slammers moved to Grand Falls for the 2018-19 season.
The right-winger was primarily a third-liner with Charlottetown. He amassed 13 goal and 18 assists in 115 career games.
“I think he’d prefer a more … prominent role,” Hulton said.
MacKenzie remembers Johnston as more of a two-way player who played in all situations at the major under-18 level.
“I think that’s what we’re going to see from him here in junior A.”
The Islanders decision-makers have fewer than two weeks to make roster additions as they build a team they hope can make a deep playoff run.
“We’ve got a couple irons in the fire for options moving forward,” Hulton said.
That could be through trade market, free agency or the possibility of their two imports coming from the Czech Republic. However, there hasn’t appeared to be much movement on that front.
Grand Falls (8-2-1-3) is in second place in its three-team mini-division.
“Anytime you can add a player like Drew at this level it’s a positive thing,” MacKenzie said. “It builds a lot of excitement when our team is already doing fairly well.”
Johnston joins fellow Islanders draft picks defenceman Zac Arsenault of Montague and goalie Nolan Boyd of Fall River, N.S. Johnston roomed with Arsenault when the defenceman joined the Islanders during a Quebec road trip during the 2019-20 season.