The New York Islanders clearly want to play Sebastian Aho over rookie Robin Salo. It's pretty frustrating for someone who follows prospects as closely as I do. But when it's Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz, there must be a reason for it.
So looking at the situation, I think we can see why the islanders are playing Aho over Salo. Clearly, they like him, but there's a bit more to it. It seems they don't want to lose him as a UFA come season's end. I know he isn't at the typical age for UFA status, but like Josh Ho-Sang last year, Aho doens't have the number of games played yet to stay an RFA.
New York Islanders: Expect to see more of Sebastian Aho
So far in his NHL career, Sebastian Aho has played a total of 34 NHL games (22 in 17-18, three in 20-21 and nine so far this year). In order to stay an RFA he has to play 80 NHL games by the end of his contract.
With a two-year deal signed in October of 2020 coming to an end this July, he could become a group 6 UFA this year, unless he plays another 46 games this year. Here are the criteria to become group 6 (thanks to CapFriendly for this):
1. Twenty-five years (or more) by the end of the contract.
2. Completed 3 or more pro seasons while under contract.
3. Played less than 80 NHL games (28 games for goalies).
This, as well as Aho's play, which has been good (not get but good), is why he's still in the lineup over someone like Robin Salo who has a superior ceiling. Can Aho get the 46 games needed to stave off UFA status? Of course, he could. There are still 62 games left on the year. Aho would have to play in 75% of those games to hit 80 NHL games in his career.
"Will he" is another question. You have to think that once Ryan Pulock is back Aho would become the seventh guy on the blueline. And that could make hitting 46 games by year-end unlikely.
Maybe that won't matter. Sure, Aho will become a UFA but if the Islanders show confidence in him he might want to stay around. Just because he becomes a UFA doesn't mean he won't stick around beyond this contract.
What seems clear is that Salo isn't necessarily in the immediate plans. Which isn't something I want to see, but I get it. I'd like for Salo to be sent down ASAP, but with Bridgeport out of action until December 11, Salo will stay with the NHL squad for a while still.