NY Islanders: Last season was rough for the development of Robin Salo

New York Islanders v Arizona Coyotes
New York Islanders v Arizona Coyotes / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

Around this time last year, defenseman Robin Salo was the favorite to be the New York Islanders' sixth defenseman after the retirements and departures of both Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene.

As the season opened, the spot next to Scott Mayfield on the blue line was Salo's to lose, and by early November, he had done just that as Sebastian Aho established himself as a more favorable option for head coach Lane Lambert. Salo was in the lineup opening night, played 11:28 of ice time, was a minus-two, and took four minutes in penalties in a 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers at UBS Arena. After that rough night, he scored twice in a 7-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks in what would be the high point of his 2022-23 season.

By early November, Salo was being loaned to Bridgeport, and Aho made the most of his opportunity, playing in a career-high 71 games, scoring five goals and 18 assists, logging 16:46 TOI a game. Salo spent much of the season as a healthy scratch when he wasn't being loaned back and forth to Bridgeport, playing in just 11 games at the NHL level, averaging only 11:11 TOI. Meanwhile, in 38 games with Bridgeport, Salo had 14 assists. The prior season he scored four goals and 16 assists in 40 AHL games.

To put it mildly, it was a rough year for the development of the 2017 second-round pick.

He wasn't able to earn consistent playing time on the Islanders' blueline and wasn't playing with Bridgeport consistently enough to acquaint himself with the B-Isles, either. While that was happening, it became harder for Salo to break into the lineup as Samuel Bolduc regained his AHL All-Star form, scoring 10 goals and 35 points in 56 games with Bridgeport.

Whereas Salo was the front-runner for the sixth defenseman heading into training camp last season, he is now firmly behind both Aho and Bolduc, who signed a two-year extension with the team this off-season. Salo will need to re-establish himself as a two-way defenseman with offensive potential in the AHL this season and be ready for a call-up if the Islanders blueline suffers multiple injuries.

Besides Aho and Bolduc, the other five Islanders defenseman are expected to remain together for the foreseeable future after Mayfield signed a seven-year contract on July 1st. That leaves the 24-year-old Salo needing to surpass both Aho and Bolduc to be back with the NHL team as he plays his final season before becoming a restricted free agent.

Expectations for him are vastly different than they were this time last season. It will be interesting to see how he approaches the year and how new Bridgeport head coach Rick Kowalsky uses and develops him in the AHL.