Islanders left wing Ross Johnston greets teammates after scoring a...

Islanders left wing Ross Johnston greets teammates after scoring a goal against the Wild during a game Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

Ross Johnston is and always has been an Islander, right down to his core. That is literally true, given that he is from Canada’s Prince Edward Island and finished his junior hockey career with his hometown Charlottetown Islanders in the Quebec league.

“In summer, it’s beautiful. There are beaches. There’s golf never more than 10 minutes away. It’s a really nice spot to grow up,” he said after a spirited New York Islanders practice Wednesday in preparation for a game in Toronto Thursday night. “There are always rinks and ponds to skate on. There’s not a big population on P.E.I. per se, but growing up, the hockey was always competitive.”

Not that it is on every hockey executive’s itinerary, though. Despite being hard to miss at 6-5, 235 pounds, Johnston never was drafted. “Every pro team has scouts at every game. They’ll find you,” he said.

Eric Cairns was the first to speak with him, followed by other Islanders bird dogs. The team signed him as a free agent, groomed him, promoted him and watched him improve. In his first full month on the squad, Johnston has been an imposing presence — he pummeled the Flames’ Ryan Lomberg in a fight Feb. 11 — and a surprisingly productive member of the fourth line. He has three goals and two assists.

“He gets in on forechecks. He plays with purpose,” Doug Weight said. “His strides are what we try to preach in wearing teams down. He forechecks with a little bit of a reckless abandon. He’s a tough kid. He’s got better stick skills than you’d think. And he has shown it in his production. I don’t know that he’s going to be a 60-point guy in the league but, I tell you, he’s gotten some key goals. He’s done his job and brought a bit of an identity back to that line.

“He has done a lot in the path of Matty Martin, he has worked on skating over and over and over.”

It is only natural that Martin’s name would come up, considering Johnston essentially plays the role Martin used to play with the Islanders — and the fact the Islanders will see Martin Thursday, albeit probably in street clothes. It will be exactly a month since Martin has played in a game for the Maple Leafs, who have decided they don’t need a tough “energy” player. That has led to speculation about the Leafs eating much of Martin’s big contract and trading him. But would the Islanders have a place for him now?

Then again, can Johnston keep playing the way he has been? The Islanders are convinced the 24-year-old’s effort never will flag. “For a big guy, it’s amazing how much he has improved his ability to move,” John Tavares said. “Not just skating up and down the ice but stopping and starting in transition, using his size to protect the puck and knowing that guys can’t push him around.”

The only stopping and starting that has been challenging for Johnston is Long Island traffic, which is like nothing he sees in Charlottetown. Still, this Island feels like home.

“I think as soon as you get by the nervousness of it all, it’s really fun,” he said. “You’re in the NHL, it’s your childhood dream.”

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