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Ross Johnston's contract extension an insurance policy for Islanders' identity line

New York Islanders left wing Ross Johnston skates

New York Islanders left wing Ross Johnston skates during Training Camp at Northwell Health Ice Center on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Islanders committed to their depth on Tuesday when they signed Ross Johnston to a four-year, $4.4 million contract extension. But though the move surprised some because of Johnston’s lack of playing time, Barry Trotz indicated Wednesday that Johnston’s value extends far beyond another big body on the bench.

The 27-year-old Johnston, who’s appeared in one game this season and has scored 15 goals in 87 games over five-plus seasons with the Islanders, has another level to his game and will continue to develop into a role player that could help extend the life span of the Islanders' key fourth line, Trotz said.

"He obviously hasn’t seen a lot of ice time, a lot of games, but he’s a guy that brings an element — obviously, when Marty’s [Matt Martin] out, he jumps right in there and does that and then he can add another element for us," Trotz said. "I think there’s another level for Ross. Believe it or not, with all the time that he’s working with our coaching staff, doing some of the skill stuff, the skating stuff — there’s a lot of elements in his game that have come a long way in the last couple of years. He’s a big man who fills a role for us and an identity for us that we’ll continue with."

And as Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck continue to take their hits, the Islanders' so-called identity line can at least count on some relief when they need it in the form of Johnston, a hard-nosed player with the needed physicality that isn’t always easy to find in the modern NHL.

"Organizationally, there aren’t a lot of guys who can do what Ross does and fill that role," Trotz said. "We can hopefully extend it and the toll on the fourth line, in terms of the physicality and all that, they get marked up and he’ll be a fresh guy to go in there all the time."

As for Johnston, he said he was "thrilled" to have a deal done and have his next four years set out for him. Signing an extension is part of a buy-in into this team, Lou Lamoriello’s mission, and the belief they’ll finally ascend the hurdle to win a Stanley Cup. He also said that he’s comfortable with his current role — one where he has to strive to take advantage of limited opportunities.

"I think you see the commitment from the guys who have been here awhile, guys who are signing deals to stick here long term and I think that shows how close our group is and what we believe we can do in here," he said. "It’s been a home for me and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to stay here for a few more years."

Notes & quotes: Though Cory Schneider cleared waivers and can be reassigned to AHL Bridgeport, Trotz would not say definitively whether Semyon Varlamov (soreness) would play in the Islanders' next game in Nashville Saturday. "It doesn’t matter when we start Varly right now," he said. "His starting point is going to be his starting point. I mean, he’s probably going to be a little bit rusty, in a ways. If it’s four weeks or whatever it is, five weeks. It just won’t matter. So his starting point is whenever we put him in the net and, at the same time, he’s fully healthy." . . . After a six-game road trip at the start of the season, the Islanders had their third day off in a row Wednesday — an attempt to mentally reset and get back on a regular sleep schedule. "I don’t think they would be as sharp as I’d like them" if they practiced, Trotz said. "So let’s give them an extra day."

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