Islanders’ third-line defenseman an open battle

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A week out from training camp, there is not much intrigue over the Islanders roster, a veteran-laden team that has changed exceedingly little from the 2021-22 season.

But of the 18 skaters the club will send out on most nights this season, there is at least one spot up for grabs: the left side defenseman on the third pairing. Sebastian Aho, Robin Salo and Dennis Cholowski — the only outside free agent signed in a summer that drew ire from the fan base — are all in the mix. It figures that only two will end up on the NHL roster, and only one can be in the lineup each night.

“You have certain pairings that you feel have chemistry, but at the end of the day, that’s what training camp’s for, is testing things out and exhibition games and things like that to find the right fit,” coach Lane Lambert said Tuesday, acknowledging it is an open competition. “But at the end of the day, the players are gonna answer the questions for us.”

Islanders defenseman Robin Salo takes a shot during a game against the Sabres last season.
Robert Sabo/New York Post

Though Lambert said the Islanders will experiment with their pairings during training camp, it figures Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock will be atop the depth chart, with Alexander Romanov and Noah Dobson shortly behind. Scott Mayfield, who is back from a season-ending lower-body injury, should be a mainstay on the third pair.

The hope is that someone proves themselves worthy of playing alongside him.

No matter who it is, all three are more offensive-minded compared to Mayfield, a stalwart defender who had just 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) last season. Salo, who turns 24 in October and made his NHL debut last season, would seem to have the highest ceiling.

“I think he’s getting closer and closer and we’ll have to see,” Lambert said. “He’s a puck-moving guy, he’s got good offensive instincts. He’s a power-play guy. I’m looking forward to seeing where his game is as we open camp.”

The Kraken's Dennis Cholowski skates with the puck against the Canucks in the first period during a preseason game at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on Sept. 26, 2021 in Spokane, Washington.
Dennis Cholowski skates with the puck while with the Kraken.
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Islanders
The Islanders’ Sebastian Aho/
Corey Sipkin

That echoed his assessment of Cholowski, a first-round pick of the Red Wings in 2016 who flamed out with Seattle and Washington last season: “Real solid offensive player. Moves the puck well. Skates well and he’s got good offense, good mobility.”

At 26, Aho has the most experience of the group and is the best-known commodity — someone with offensive skill whose defensive lapses have kept him from sticking in the NHL. If it is Salo’s job to gain, then it is Aho’s to lose, with Cholowski in the mix as a wild card.

Lambert said he expects the Islanders to come to camp fully healthy, including Cal Clutterbuck and Mayfield, both of whom missed the final fourth of last season with injuries.

The Islanders are not expecting to sign anybody to a tryout contract for camp, Lambert said.

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