Heading into the 2022-23 season, no player on the NY Islanders might be more important than Robin Salo. Obviously, key players such as Mathew Barzal and Ilya Sorokin remain some of the most important players on the team, but when GM Lou Lamoriello decided that the addition of Alexander Romanov was enough this offseason he created a situation where there will be some internal competition for the sixth spot on the Islanders defense. That situation can lead to those players elevating each others performance, but if it fails, there's a gapping hole on Scott Mayfield's left side.
In February 2021, Salo signed his first professional contract with the Islanders, a two year deal that ended this summer. He was resigned on a one-way deal in July and will compete with Sebastian Aho and/or Dennis Cholowski for the sixth spot on the Islanders blue line. The Isles seemingly know what Aho is at this point and Cholowski, as of now, is a failed first round selection by the Detroit Red Wings in 2016. That means of those three defenseman, Salo has the highest ceiling and stands the best chance to be a contributor in the Islander lineup.
Salo got his first taste of NHL action last season when the Islanders were in the thick of their Covid crisis that rampantly spread through the locker room. In 21 games, he scored a goal and four assists. He showed the ability to move the puck well in transition, walk the blue line in the offensive zone, and ability to contribute on offense. It was his play in the defensive end that needs work.
Salo's first and only NHL goal was a promising look at Salo's ability to join a rush and pick a corner quickly after receiving the puck on his stick blade. The lack of hesitation is a good sign he's up to speed at the NHL level in the offensive zone. Pairing Salo with a defensive defenseman such as Mayfield should open up the ice for the soon-to-be- 24-year-old defenseman, giving him the opportunity to move pucks out of his own zone into the oppositions.
Unfortunately, when Salo was demoted after the Islanders finally returned to full health last season, he didn't exactly dazzle like the organization had hoped he would.
"He hasn't played as well as he's needed to play. He should be an impact and the best defenseman. He hasn't been."- Former Isles head coach Barry Trotz
Following the statement from Barry Trotz, Salo picked things up scoring two goals and six assists in 16 games to end the season. He also chipped in a goal and an assist in six contests during the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs.
If Salo wants to stick, he needs to develop into a responsible two-way defenseman that Lane Lambert can rely on to not be a liability on the ice. Salo has shown he can create offense, but his 6'2", 192 lb frame is big enough to defend at the varsity level. If he can compliment Mayfield by skating the puck away from danger, he has a good chance to stick, and if he taps into his offensive potential, there's a chance you could see a decent breakout performance from the Espoo, Finland native.