NEWARK — Incumbent Sebastian Aho has played 115 more NHL games than Samuel Bolduc, but Bolduc has the advantage of six inches and 40 pounds on Aho. One will be the Islanders’ sixth defenseman to start the season.
It was Aho’s chance to state his case in the Islanders’ track meet of a 6-5 preseason loss to the speedy Devils on Monday night at Prudential Center, after which coach Lane Lambert said he was not satisfied with the play in the defensive and neutral zones.
“I didn’t think we had enough structure tonight,” Lambert said.
The 5-10, 180-pound Aho was a plus-3 in 17:00 with an assist. Anders Lee tipped Aho’s blue-line shot for the game’s final goal at 16:23 of the third period.
“I would assess his game like I would assess a lot of the team’s game,” Lambert said. “There were moments when we had some struggles and there were moments when we were good. He’s a puck-moving guy for us and I thought he moved the puck pretty well at times.”
Aho was paired with Scott Mayfield after the 6-4, 220-pound Bolduc logged 15:35 skating with Mayfield in Saturday night’s 5-3 win over the Rangers at UBS Arena.
Both must pass through waivers to be reassigned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, virtually ensuring that both will be on the opening night roster. Mayfield, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov are locks as the top five.
Aho had five goals and 18 assists in 71 games last season and played in all six playoff games after Robin Salo beat him out in training camp as the sixth defenseman. He solidified his role by cutting down on his defensive-zone turnovers.
“Being more consistent and more reliable,” said Aho, a fifth-round pick in 2017. “That’s the biggest thing. Not as many turnovers. Taking a lot of pride in the defensive work and trying to get that under control before thinking about the offense. Before I was guessing a little bit and trying to get ahead of the play.”
Bolduc made his NHL debut last season with two goals and one assist in 17 games, then filled in for the first two games of the Islanders’ first-round loss to the Hurricanes with Romanov out with a shoulder injury.
His size is enticing as a net-front defender as is his booming blue-line shot, which the Islanders have used on the power play in preseason. But Bolduc, a second-round pick in 2019 entering his fourth professional season, has struggled defensively at times.
Notes & quotes: Ilya Sorokin allowed five goals on 18 shots in two periods . . . Mathew Barzal had two goals, including a first-period breakaway at 3:44, and an assist. Brock Nelson, who gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead at 8:16 of the first period, and Pierre Engvall had the other goals . . . Defenseman Calle Odelius logged 16:44 with three blocked shots in his preseason debut . . . Lee was on top-line center Bo Horvat’s left wing with Barzal after working most of camp with third-line center Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who did not play.