Who will start the season as the sixth defenseman?
Last season, Robin Salo got the first crack on the Isles blue line but was ineffective and quickly lost his spot after just four games. In came Sebastian Aho, who seemed to surprise everyone as he took hold of the reigns as the Isles' sixth defenseman.
During the final month of the season, as the Islanders pushed toward the playoffs, they were without Alexander Romanov, who missed time with an injury. Replacing him, the Isles found confidence in Samuel Bolduc, a 6'3" 220 lbs defenseman capable of creating offense.
Aho, already 27 years old, proved he's a capable, everyday NHL defenseman. But has he already hit his peak? He's an undersized blue liner heading into the final year of his NHL deal before hitting free agency at the end of the season.
Bolduc, just 22, has much more offensive upside and size than Aho. An AHL all-star last year, Bolduc produced 35 points (10 goals, 25 assists) in 53 games with the Bridgeport Islanders of the AHL before his call-up to the big club. He has the size, skating, and offensive capabilities to become a quality top-four defenseman at some point in his NHL career.
Bolduc has two years remaining on his contract at an $800k cap hit and will remain a restricted free agent at its completion.
With only one spot available on the blue line, Lamoriello and Lambert will have to decide if they want to go with the most experienced player comfortable playing in the NHL or the younger player with more potential.