Mo­ti­vated to make the team

Drew John­ston earns spot with Char­lot­te­town Is­lan­ders

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - BY JA­SON MALLOY

When Drew John­ston was work­ing out this sum­mer he had one thing on his mind.

“I wanted to be on the team this year,” the 17-year-old Saint John, N.B., na­tive said be­fore a Char­lot­te­town Is­lan­ders prac­tice this week.

Mis­sion ac­com­plished.

But it’s only the first step as now the young­ster has to find a way to get into the lineup and con­trib­ute on a vet­eran squad.

“We have a good team here, a lot of vets, a lot of hard-work­ing guys that are go­ing to help me de­velop into the player I’m go­ing to be when I’m older,” John­ston said.

He also says he’s a hard-work­ing player and noted he has grit in his game and doesn’t mind play­ing an ag­i­ta­tor role. He likes the game of NHLers Jamie Benn, Matthew Tkachuk and Bran­don Du­binksy and notes he is at his best when he’s skat­ing hard, hit­ting and chirp­ing at the other team. But John­ston can also put the puck in the net and be a play­maker.

These lat­ter two qual­i­ties made it hard for the Is­lan­ders a year ago, when John­ston had done enough to make the team, but would have been rel­e­gated to fourth-line du­ties as a 16-year-old for­ward.

The team de­cided it was best for his de­vel­op­ment to send him back to the Saint John Vito’s ma­jor midget squad to play a lot and in a va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tions.

“It’s not an easy thing to get de­moted no mat­ter what walk of life you’re in,” Isles head coach and gen­eral manager Jim Hulton said. “It’s not fun. You have to han­dle it prop­erly.”

John­ston said it was tough news to hear at the time, but he knew he was young and had to phys­i­cally ma­ture.

“It’s tough, but it’s Q hockey. It’s the best of the best here,” he said. “There’s noth­ing re­ally you can do, just use it as mo­ti­va­tion re­ally.”

Hulton said there were some grow­ing pains in the early days of his re­turn to midget, but former NHLer Randy Jones did a great job as his midget coach. John­ston re­sponded and got bet­ter as the year went on and had a strong play­off run.

Now 12 months af­ter be­ing sent back to midget, John­ston has earned his jersey for the up­com­ing sea­son.

“It worked ob­vi­ously, and now I’m here,” he said, re­call­ing back to re­ceiv­ing the news from the Isles brass that he was stick­ing around this time.

“It was awe­some,” he said. “My mom and dad were there. It was just a great feel­ing, fi­nally sign­ing. I had a smile on my face the whole night.”

And John­ston hasn’t eased off the throt­tle since then.

He had a pair of goals as the Is­lan­ders won 7-0 a week ago in Saint John against the Sea Dogs.

“That was awe­some in front of the home­town,” he said, not­ing fam­ily and friends were in the stands to sup­port him. “It gave me a lot of con­fi­dence.”

The Is­lan­ders could have as many as 13 re­turnees this sea­son with three vet­eran ad­di­tions to the ros­ter. But there is room for young­sters, like John­ston, to show what they can do.

“On a vet­eran team, the chal­lenge com­ing in as a young guy is to cre­ate a niche and do some­thing aside from the crowd that’s go­ing to get you in the lineup ev­ery night,” Hulton said.

Keith Get­son is of­ten held up as a guy that play­ers could model them­selves af­ter. He was a big scorer in ban­tam and midget hockey in Nova Sco­tia. He made the Is­lan­ders as a 16-year-old and found a role by be­ing a good penalty killer the coach­ing staff could trust. His role has only in­creased as he en­ters his fifth sea­son in the league.

“It’s a great ex­am­ple,” Hulton said. “Getsy is won­der­ful ex­am­ple for any of our young play­ers com­ing in.”

The Is­lan­ders open the reg­u­lar sea­son Fri­day at home against the Cape Bre­ton Scream­ing Ea­gles at 7:30 p.m. at the Eastlink Cen­tre.

JA­SON MALLOY/THE GUARDIAN

Drew John­ston has made the Char­lot­te­town Is­lan­ders for the up­com­ing sea­son.

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