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2015-16 IceCaps Season Review: Ryan Johnston

Starting the season with an injury had the rookie defenseman dealing with a year of ups and downs.

St. John's IceCaps / Colin Peddle

Ryan Johnston, an undrafted free agent, signed with the Montreal Canadiens during the off-season to a two-year, two-way contract.

His professional career didn't start off as he had hoped. While attending the Canadiens' summer development camp, he sustained an injury to his back. He had to undergo surgery to repair a herniated disc in October, sidelining him for the first half of the season.

He didn't hit the ice with the St. John's IceCaps until he was cleared to play in mid-January. Due to missing so much time, Johnston's confidence took a hit. Being set back half a year, he worked hard trying to get back on the same level he was over the summer. In the beginning, it was difficult for him to find his stride and make the offensive and corner plays he's becoming known for.

But it wasn't long before Johnston began to find his footing as he got more games under his belt. By the end of the season, he had a tally of 12 points — all assists — in the 37 games he suited up for with the IceCaps.

While his defensive skills are still developing in terms of consistency and are in need of a little polishing, his patience and puck-handling techniques are definite assets. His ability to make creative split-second decisions and his impressive zone entries are the key to setting up his teammates for dangerous scoring chances.

On April 5, Johnston made his NHL debut when he was an emergency recall by the Canadiens, becoming the team record 15th defenceman to dress for the Canadiens in the 2015-16 season. In the three games he played, he averaged 16 minutes of ice time, but didn't record any points or penalties

After experiencing the more controlled game of the NHL, Johnston was able to play the game he excelled at: slowing down the play when needed. He brought that mindset back to the IceCaps to play in their final games of the regular season.

And it showed. Arriving approximately four hours before the game against the Utica Comets on April 10, Johnston played one of his best games of the season. Slowing down the pace, drawing the players in, and then making the pass, he finished the game with three assists and a +6 rating.

If the injures on the Canadiens' blue line are in the past, Johnston will find himself back with the the IceCaps. He brings added value to the power play, and, depending on how training camp goes, he'll probably start the season on a third-line pairing. It wouldn't be surprising to see him bumped up when his defensive skills get stronger.

Given his steady progress over what amounted to half of a season, Johnston made an impact with the IceCaps and should be given a larger role on the team for the 2016-17 campaign.