Almost two weeks ago, the New York Islanders signed what is arguably their most exciting prospect in Robin Salo. The Finnish-born defenseman playing for Swedish side Orebro put pen to paper on a two-year ELC with the Islanders effective this season.
With 28 points in 41 games (at the time of writing) and averaging over 20 minutes a night, Salo – a second-round pick from 2017 – has developed into one of the better young players in Sweden and earning that two-year contract from the Islanders.
With a fresh Islanders contract in hand, I caught up with the busy prospect (he’s already played 45+ games this year between Orebro and the Finnish national team) to ask a number of questions from how it felt to have that contract to how he feels about Lou’s rules?
New York Islanders Robin Salo on his contract, Barry Trotz, and Lou’s rules
It’s been over three years since the Islanders selected Robin Salo 46th overall in the 2017 draft. With no first-round pick that year (trade with Vegas for expansion draft considerations), Salo was the Isles top pick that year.
It’s taken some time, but now the Isles prospect has signed an NHL contract months before becoming a UFA. And, as Robin says (it took a while) but it’s a dream come true.
"It’s something you dream about [singing NHL deal] when you’re young of course. It feels good because it was under negotiation for a while during the season. So it feels good to finally get on the same page and then get it done. I’m happy to sign with the Islanders and to be part of the organization"
After signing the deal, the Islanders immediately loaned him back to SHL side Orebro where Salo has played since his transfer near the end of the 2019-20 season. Which means he’ll burn that first year of his contract. By the time he arrives in North America, he’ll likely have just a single year left on his deal.
I asked Salo if the Islanders had discussed what their plan for him would be next year. The answer he gave me didn’t shed any light on what the Isles might be thinking but it certainly gave great insight into Salo’s mentality as he chases that NHL dream.
"I just hope I can continue in the same way and have a good season. I feel like I developed a lot. I’m 22 now and more ready to take the step and see how far my skills can go and test myself and hopefully be successful in the US too. It’s up to me. I’ll do my best and see how much I can be an asset to the team."
“It’s up to me”.
Throughout my chat with Salo, the biggest takeaway was that the 22-year-old isn’t taking anything for granted. He knows that he has a great opportunity in front of him – one that he’s truly deserved – but if he’s going to make it stick, he has to work for it.
When he arrives, Salo will suit up for an organization that seems to have a knack for developing prospects on the blueline. Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, Devon Toews (now with Colorado), and now Noah Dobson have all been groomed by the Islanders and all have turned into solid defensemen at the NHL level. That must give a defenseman like himself a shot of confidence, right?
"Yeah, of course. They have players that developed into good NHL players. But still like I said, nothing comes for free. It’s just up to me to put in the work and do my best and hopefully that will be good enough."
Specifically, he’ll be able to learn from Barry Trotz who’s been able to mold some of the top defensive players in the league. Trotz has overseen the development of players like Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones, which, again, must give him some confidence that he can make this NHL journey a success?
"Well it feels really good of course. I heard he’s a really good coach. That’s good list of examples [Weber, Josi, etc…] of how he can develp and turn them into good players. There’s always a chance. But you have to put in the work and really want it and do it."
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Fans are of two very different minds when it comes to Lou Lamoriello and his ‘rules’. Players play for the crest on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back according to the GM. Low numbers, clean-shaven, and well-kept hair are all some of Lou’s rules that fans either totally agree with or venomously despise.
So I asked Salo what he thought of the GM’s rules. Did he care at all?
"Well, not really. It’s fine. If I get a chance at the NHL it doesn’t matter for me really. We have a mandatory millitary process in Finland where it’s the same rules. It’s ok for me."
I think you’ll have the same takeaway from Salo as I did when I hung up the phone. He’s a talented kid who isn’t going to take anything for granted, which should fit in perfectly with the Islanders hard-working ethos.