Islanders prospect Robin Salo: Stud top end defenseman in SHL

Robin Salo is interviewed after being selected 46th overall by the New York Islanders (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Robin Salo is interviewed after being selected 46th overall by the New York Islanders (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

New York Islanders prospect Robin Salo is a stud defenseman for one of the top hockey leagues in the world who should be signed as soon as possible.

I’ve been watching a number of prospects in the New York Islanders system over the last few months and none have impressed me as much as Robin Salo has. Salo, an Islanders second-round pick from 2017, is currently playing for Orebro in the SHL and having a terrific season.

As a 2017 draftee out of Europe, the Islanders have until June 1, 2021, to get Salo under contract, or else he will become a free agent where he will certainly sign with another NHL club.

I’m sure it won’t get to that and the Islanders will sign him to a deal by the end of the season. But just in case, here’s my case for the stud Finnish defenseman.

Top Prospect

Look, I’m not the first nor will I be the last to gush about Robin Salo. Last May, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler (subscription required) went into great detail on why Salo is a top prospect. But that was a year ago, what’s happened with Salo since then? And has Salo remained the same player Wheeler gushed about or has he improved?

(Spoiler. He has.)

Let’s just look at his production first. It’s not the be-all-end-all when judging a player’s potential but it’s the first set of numbers any hockey fan will look at to identify quality. As of Wednesday (where Salo had a three-point night), the Isles prospects sits with 19 points (four goals and 15 assists) on the season. That ranks Salo eighth in scoring for defensemen in the SHL.

He scored six points in 12 games with Orebro last season. Pace that production out over the 26 games he’s played this year and Salo is hitting 0.115 points-per-game more this year. I know that doesn’t sound like much but an extra 0.115 points-per-game over a full 52 game season is another six points. That extra six points bumps him from a 28 point player to 34 points. Saw what you will but a 30+ point player looks better than a 20+ point player.

Production aside a good marker of his relative importance is his usage. With an average of 22:23 per night, Salo is the fourth most utilized player in the SHL. The three guys above him are veteran defenders at least seven years Salo’s senior.

His first season in the SHL saw him average 22:07 of ice time. So again, a slight increase, but it’s trending upwards rather than flatlining or decreasing. Showing that Salo is an important part of a top SHL squad (Orebro ranks 5th with 51 points).

In terms of play-driving, Salo is still a good player for Orebro. According to BetterThanAMonkey (yes, it’s a hockey analytics page), Salo leads the team in Corsi-for on the season with a 413. His 50.1CF% however is fourth on the team*.

(*For players who have played at least 15 games.)

That’s down from the incredible 56.47CF% he had in 12 games last season. But with the sample size of games played and the fact that he’s playing against tougher opponents now, it’s easy to see why that’s gone down a bit.

As the season progresses, Salo’s form is only growing for Orebro. Going back to stats site BetterThanAMonkey, Robin Salo’s game score (five-game rolling average) has increased steadily through the year.

This kid – he’s not really a kid, he’s 22-years-old now – is a stud defenseman at the SHL level and he’s ready for the next step.

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What that next step will be is up to Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz.

Could Salo step right into the NHL? It’s possible but unlikely with the way we’ve seen Lou and Barry integrate young players into the team. A year in the AHL is certainly what will happen for Salo.

I imagine the team will sign Salo to some sort of contract once his season is done with Orebro. That signing could come in time for Salo to join Bridgeport for the tail end of the 2021 season. That could mean he’s signed to his two-year ELC as per the CBA (Article 9.1 (b)) as early as this season. It would be irresponsible to allow a player like Salo to walk.