His recall from Bridgeport initially enraged many but by the season’s end, Ross Johnston became a fan favorite with the New York Islanders.
On January 19, the New York Islanders recalled Ross Johnston from their AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. At the time of the recall, Johnston had played 37 games with Bridgeport with 11 points over that span (three goals, eight assists). Most notably, however, Johnston led the AHL in penalty minutes with 113.
When the transaction was announced, many fans took to social media to voice their displeasure. The team was struggling and the main argument from the fans was that a guy known as an enforcer with 30 points in 140 career AHL games was not the answer to the team’s problems, especially with guys like Josh Ho-Sang still in the minors.
At the time, Johnston’s only other NHL experience came in the final game of the 2015-16 season, a game I like to refer to as the “tank game”. If the Isles had gotten a point in that game they would’ve faced the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one. Scratching the majority of their lineup, the Isles lost 5-2 to the Flyers, setting up a first-round series against the Florida Panthers (we all know how that went). Johnston had four penalty minutes in his NHL debut.
His first game after being recalled, a road game against the Blackhawks, Johnston did exactly what was expected of him and more. Up 4-2, Johnston chased down a puck that the Chicago goaltender Anton Forsberg had turned over behind the goal and backhanded it to the front, setting up a Brock Nelson goal. Later in the game, he dropped the gloves with Ryan Hartman by the Islanders’ bench and was the pretty evident winner of the tilt.
Johnston’s unexpected offense continued in Vegas, one of the hardest places for opponents to not only play but win. He took a cross-ice pass from Ryan Pulock and backhanded one to the front of the goal that deflected off a Golden Knight stick and into the back of the net for his first NHL goal.
His second NHL goal, however, was no fluke. In a game against the Sabres in Buffalo, Johnston received a pass from Cal Clutterbuck in the high-slot and made a power move to the net, beating Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner upstairs.
Johnston was always there for his teammates and always there to answer the bell. In 24 games, Johnston got into four fights and was the clear winner in all of them – especially when taking down Ryan Lomberg of the Calgary Flames.
Johnston’s was one game shy of 25, the minimum amount of games required in a single season for it to be known as a player’s rookie season; That means that if he makes the team next season, he would still be considered a rookie. Defenseman Sebastian Aho, who played in 22 games, is in a similar situation.
Final Grade: B
Expectations were low but Johnston won over Islander fans and the coaching staff for doing the simple things right, adding unexpected offense (three goals, three assists), and beating up opponents.