From what we have seen from the New York Islanders so far through training camp and preseason, the message by first-year head coach Lane Lambert is simple.
It’s a new ideology that Lambert has put in place, a completely different mindset from what former head coach Barry Trotz instilled over his four years behind the New York Islanders bench.
Through the preseason, it was evident that players were still adjusting, and it’s likely to take a bit of time before the system plays the way Lambert intends it to.
A few players on the team have that offensive mindset, most notably Mathew Barzal. But there’s another player whose skills complement the systematic adjustments, and that’s 23-year-old defenseman Robin Salo, who is getting set to embark on his first season as an NHL regular as the Islanders’ sixth defenseman.
“I like playing fast and active, which we play now and what I’ve noticed in the preseason games, and I feel comfortable enough playing that way,” Robin Salo told NYI Hockey Now. “So yeah, I think it’s going to fit my playing style.”
Robin Salo brings an offensive mind to the backend, which makes this revamped defense even stronger, with each pairing having a transition and a defensive mind.
Salo is a player who brings a strong set of wheels but also has the smarts and ability to create shooting lanes from the blue line and, more importantly, hit the net with constant accuracy.
We have seen in the preseason that Lambert wants his defensemen getting shots on goal whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Despite adjusting to the North American game, as this will only be his third hockey season on this side of the pond, Salo believes his ability to get shots through plays right into the deck of cards that Lambert is dealing.
“I think that’s one of my strengths of the game. Just getting shots through,” Robin Salo told NYI Hockey Now when asked about his offensive skill set. “Might not have the hardest shot, but I’m just trying to get [the puck] to the first forward [I see] or just like make a move or get it fast to him [teammate in front] just because there’s always going to be guys to the net. So if you get it there, there’s always going to be a chance [to score].”
“Just play your game, and it should be good, you know?
Under Barry Trotz, being conservative is how the team had to play, even if being conservative wasn’t each player’s cup of tea.
So when Lambert took over, Salo did not have to change the game he showcased last year at the NHL level, but he just had to find some consistency to his game. And alongside Scott Mayfield, a defensive-minded defenseman, that allows for this pairing to be dynamic if each can play their role effectively.
“I don’t think I’ve changed my game too much [playing with Mayfield]. Just like kind of try to focus on, partner-wise, what we should do, you know, just like have that balance there in our style because it’s, I mean, every player is different,” Salo said. “So just try to with your partner, just play with that balance.
“But I mean, we bring both skills, [we] play our game and play to our strengths.”
Head coach Lane Lambert spoke on Salo’s skill set, and although it may not be an easy transition for Salo from Trotz’s system to his, his skills certainly help.
“Yeah, I think, well, I don’t know that [it’s been an] easy transition, but I think with his mind and the way he thinks, it certainly lends in a little bit to his game, to being able to join and jump into the play when the time permits,” Lane Lambert said. “I think he’s been really consistent.”
That consistency is going to be important for Salo.
“He came in last year. A lot of players, their first go around, have levels of inconsistency at times. So I think he’s done a really good job of improving on that.”
As much as Lambert wants his defense to be aggressive, joining in on the rush, pressuring the opposition at their own blue line, defense is still the bread and butter of this team. And Salo has tried to work on his defensive game this preseason and believes he has become more comfortable in that area.
“Yeah, I would say just playing more confidently and getting used to the game over here, just positioning myself in a better way and be better defensively, you know,” Salo said. “So I kind of, and you know, got to know the system.”
In 2021-22, Robin Salo played in 21 games for New York, with some positive showings but also some performances that left more to be desired. He had a goal and four assists over that span, and now, with consistent minutes, Robin Salo and his aggressive mindset should allow for more production for him and his teammates.