Robin Salo doesn’t want to think about what the signs might mean as he progresses through Islanders training camp.
But the signs sure seem to indicate that the 22-year-old Finn, a second-round pick in 2017, will start his second season in North America as the Islanders’ sixth defenseman.
Salo has been paired consistently with established top-six blueliner Scott Mayfield since camp opened and quarterbacked the second power-play unit in Sunday night’s 2-1 preseason win over the Flyers at UBS Arena, working alongside regulars Anthony Beauvillier, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Josh Bailey and Zach Parise.
He had a goal in the Islanders’ previous game, a 4-1 loss to the Devils at Prudential Center, and he’s shown the best skating ability and offensive upside among the potential candidates.
“I try to not look into things too much,” Salo said after Sunday’s win in which he logged 19:03, including 1:44 on the power play. He had one shot, two attempts blocked and one missed shot and also blocked one shot.
He added, “I mean, it’s just preseason games. I just try to do my best out there. I’ve played power play before. I just try to do my thing on the power play, play my role and try to score some goals.”
Salo had four goals and 16 assists in 40 games for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport last season after stints in the Swedish Hockey League and Finland’s SM-liiga. He also had a goal and four assists in 21 games for the Islanders.
“It’s my second year here so it feels a little bit more comfortable,” Salo said. “I know the guys before and it’s easy to come back to an organization where you’ve been before. So, of course, it feels good to be back here.”
With Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene not returning, the Islanders have an opening for two defensemen — potentially three if eight are carried to start the season.
The top five were set entering camp with Mayfield, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock and Noah Dobson returning and Alexander Romanov acquired from the Canadiens for a first-round pick.
President and general manager Lou Lamoriello opted not to bring in any defensemen to camp on professional tryout offers, believing the internal candidates were sufficient. And Salo has stood out from a group that also includes free-agent import Dennis Cholowski, Sebastian Aho, who has played 36 games for the Islanders since 2017, and older prospects Grant Hutton and Parker Wotherspoon.
Lamoriello still could pull off a trade to bring in a veteran as the other NHL teams face roster squeezes before the season opens. But the team seems happy with Salo’s progression.
“I think he looks a lot more comfortable,” coach Lane Lambert said Sunday.
“I thought his five-on-five game was good. He showed poise with the puck. He did a good job at the end on the penalty kill. I thought he played a good game.”
The Islanders, who did not practice on Monday, will face the Flyers again on Tuesday night in Philadelphia.