The NY Islanders are proven correct in sticking with Sebastian Aho

Lou Lamoriello could have upgraded at the trade deadline but stuck with the 26-year-old defenseman instead.

New York Islanders v Chicago Blackhawks
New York Islanders v Chicago Blackhawks / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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The NY Islanders shuffled the lineup in the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning on February 24th. The team had just lost 4 of their last 5 games and were 7 points behind the third-place Philadelphia Flyers in the Metropolitan Division. The offense was coming off a lackluster performance against the St. Louis Blues where the team lost 4-0. Now being shut out for five consecutive regulation periods, Patrick Roy shuffled their entire forward unit in search of a spark.

Suffice it to say, the Isles have responded since this decision was made. The team has won five straight games, placing themselves just 2 points behind the Lightning and Detroit Red Wings for the Eastern Conference wild-card spots. The offense has experienced its best stretch of the season, scoring 26 goals since February 24th. Most notably, Anders Lee and Kyle Palmieri have finally found their rhythm, combining for 6 goals on the newly assembled second line. Mathew Barzal has recorded points in 14 of his last 15 games.

While the star forwards are garnering all of the attention, the new defensive pairings have gone unnoticed. Noah Dobson has continued his breakout season playing alongside Adam Pelech. Alexander Romanov's game continues to improve being paired with the 100 MPH slap shot of Ryan Pulock. Additionally, Mike Reilly has proven to be the Isles' best waiver claim in years. However, one defenseman has gone unnoticed for his recent renaissance.

Lou Lamoriello was right in sticking with Sebastian Aho.

Scott Mayfield was placed on the Long-Term Injury-Reserve List on March 5th as he will be shut down for 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury. Since his last game against the Blues on February 22nd, Sebastian Aho has taken his spot on the bottom defensive pairing with Reilly. Aho had struggled for most of this season, rating as a -12 with just one goal and five assists before his return. In fairness to the 27-year-old defenseman, he had missed time early this season and was being asked to play on his off-side for the first time.

Since taking over for Mayfield, Aho has performed like the player we remember from 2022-23. He has recorded points in each of the last 2 games with 6 blocked shots in the last 5. The pairing of Aho and Reilly has statistically been the Isles' best defensive unit, rating a plus-6 during this span. Roy has rewarded the defenseman with a gradual increase in time on ice from 14 to 17 minutes.

As the trade deadline came about on March 8th, Lou Lamoriello had every reason to seek Mayfield's replacement for the rest of 2023-24. However, Aho has shown both his offensive and defensive versatility playing next to Reilly during this 5-game winning streak. Aho took time to adapt to his new role having never played on his right side at the professional level.

Furthermore, Mayfield was having the worst season of his career coming off the 4 penalty minutes that cost the Isles a win at MetLife Stadium. It's fair to wonder if Mayfield would continue to be a regular if his performance did not resemble the player from years past. Robert Bortuzzo has also begun skating with an eye on returning to action. However, his performance with the Isles this season was unimpressive with 12 penalty minutes in just 11 games. Facing an uncertain future with free agency looming, Aho has taken advantage of this opportunity and helped solidify a now trustworthy bottom defensive unit.