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Is Salo Ready for Everyday Role With New York Islanders In 2022-23?



Robin Salo, New York Islanders
New York Islanders defenseman Robin Salo after scoring his first NHL goal on Jan. 18 against the Philadelphia Flyers (Photo-via New York Islanders Instagram)

As of now, Robin Salo is a strong candidate to slot in on the New York Islanders’ third defensive pairing alongside Scott Mayfield when the puck drops on Oct. 13. But is he ready for an everyday role?

Robin Salo is a graceful skater who has the vision, ability and hockey IQ to lead breakouts and transition, whether that be at even strength or on the power play. Inside the offensive zone, he is a shifty defenseman, using his skating ability to create time and space.

The 23-year-old does not need much time or space to get a shot on goal, as we saw when he played against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Not only that but he also owns a cannon of a point shot that served him well when he scored his first NHL goal, again against the Flyers.

One area of Salo’s game that needs work is his physicality. Despite his 6-2 frame, he is on the lighter side at 195 lbs. That makes it a bit difficult to move the opposition from the front of the net and win puck battles in corners.

Hits are one thing, as confidence is needed to commit to a hit along with the ability to get back in the play if that hit is missed. And of course, that all comes with experience; after all, you don’t need to be 6-5 to lay the body.

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Let’s dive into Salo’s 2021-22 season with the Islanders and the Bridgeport Islanders.

In 2021-22, Robin Salo played in 21 games for New York. The Swede made his NHL debut on Nov. 20 when the Islanders were in full COVID-19 crisis. He netted his first assist in his seventh game and his first NHL goal in his 13th. Beyond the score sheet, he showcased his skating and vision.

After his first 18-game stint with the big club, Salo had a goal and three assists, along with 21 shots on goal (1.16 shots per game), five hits and 21 blocks while averaging 16:44 minutes per night.

For a young player, Salo’s discipline or stealthiness stood out as he only made two trips to the sin bin.

For the majority of that stretch, Salo skated alongside 39-year-old Andy Greene. In 129:53 minutes together, at 5-on-5, the duo was on the ice for three Islanders goals and five opponent goals. Shots (64-40), scoring chances (57-47), and high-danger chances (22-21) were all in favor of the opposition.

When Salo was not with Greene, his numbers were still not particularly strong: 64-55 (shots), 73-62 (scoring chances), 60-59 (high-danger chances) were also all in favor of the opposition.

Without Greene at 5-on-5, Salo was on the ice for three Islanders goals and three goals from the opposition.

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If Salo were to play in the NHL this season, it would likely be alongside Scott Mayfield. The two played 78:01 minutes together at five-on-five. Over that time, New York was outshot 40-31 and outscored 3-1, with an expected goals-against of 4.42, meaning the goaltending came up big.

Before being returned to the Bridgeport Islanders in late January, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz had this to say about his young defenseman.

“I think he’s gotten more comfortable with the increased number of games and the increased minutes that he’s earned,” Trotz said. “I think he is learning to defend at a more physical level. “

There was an opportunity for him to return to the big club when Zdeno Chara went on the IR in March, but 24-year-old Parker Wotherspoon got the call-up instead.

More on that in a moment.

When New York was dealing with a stomach bug the last two-ish weeks of the season, Robin Salo was back at the NHL level. He played in the Islanders’ final three games of the season, registering an assist and two shots on goal in 43:42 total minutes.

After Robin Salo’s 18 games at the NHL level, he was returned to Bridgeport following Ryan Pulock‘s return from the IR. In 40 regular-season games with the AHL’s Islanders, Salo dished four goals with 16 assists. That discipline he showed at the NHL level was evident in Bridgeport as well as he took just four penalties. In six postseason games, Salo registered a goal and an assist.

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As mentioned, Robin Salo missed out on a call-up, which confused many.

“He hasn’t played as well as he has needed to play. He should be an impact and the best defenseman down [there and] hasn’t been,” Trotz said bluntly.

Trotz never held back how he feels about any of his players, particularly younger ones like Oliver Wahlstrom. That brought about questions regarding Salo and just how soon he could be a staple in the NHL lineup.

As of now, Salo has a strong chance to start the 2022-23 season up with the Islanders, but there will be competition. A pair of 26-year-old defensemen will also be vying for that open spot in Sebastian Aho and Grant Hutton. However, the fact that Salo plays both sides and is a player that can play on the power play makes him a versatile option for Lane Lambert.

Two reasons in which one could see Salo starting in Bridgeport is if New York acquires another defenseman, potentially a Samuel Girard-type player via trade. Or, the team could potentially believe that Salo would benefit more from playing top minutes at the lower level and elevating his game.

In the end, Salo needs to have a strong training camp to convince Lambert he belongs. And ultimately, that will be the difference between Long Island and Connecticut to open 2022-23.