Robin Salo – Örebro’s rising star

Robin Salo is playing his first full season in the Swedish Hockey League. The 22-year-old defenseman joined Örebro from Liiga team SaiPa in the midst of the 2019-20 season. He played in 12 games for Örebro last season, collecting one goal and five assists. Salo has been a top player on his team this season, and in my opinion one of the best blueliners in the whole league.

The New York Islanders prospect makes a very positive impact offensively. He does a great job of breaking pucks out of the defensive zone. He can make a crisp, firm first pass or carry the puck from his own end. He reads the game well and can join the rush as a second-wave option. I love his cunning and ability to find ways to be creative with the puck.

He is not the most explosive defenseman, but his first few strides are quick enough so that he can skate past the first forechecker. He does have pretty good top speed once he reaches it. His skating has improved from his NHL draft year – his stride and mobility suffered from clumsiness back then, but his skating looks stronger now. He has good balance and is sturdy on his skates which is an asset, especially in board and corner battles and down low in the defensive zone.

In the following clip from the Euro Hockey Tour in December, the Czech team dumps the puck into the Finnish zone. Salo (number 42) gets to that loose puck pretty swiftly behind the net and skates with it up the ice. I really like the way he uses the middle of the ice to enter the offensive zone with control – this is something that he does frequently and effectively in the SHL. He gives the puck up to his teammate at the right time.

In this particular sequence, his point shot misses the net by a fair margin. However, generally he is a fairly strong shooter with an effective wrist shot. He seldom overhandles the puck and when he recognizes an opportunity to shoot, he will take it without hesitation on most occasions.

Here is another clip, this time on the power play, where Salo displays poise, fast stickhandling and generates a controlled zone entry:

Defensively, Salo shows situational awareness and wins the majority of his puck battles. He defends well with his stick, can hide his poke well and does not give opponents direct routes to the net. He keeps tight gaps and can suffocate opposing rushes already in the neutral zone. Despite not being an overly aggressive defender, he can also play the body effectively. Here’s one clip to display his active stick work:

As seen in this chart, Salo’s power play time has increased pretty significantly this season, whereas his shorthanded time has been going down. I think the distribution of his ice-time will continue to be trending this way when he eventually crosses the pond to North America. He has excelled on the power play for Örebro and his attributes certainly seem better suited for the man advantage than for killing penalties. Neither is an issue for him as he has versatility to play in any situation. Overall, he has logged 22:43 of ice-time per game this season, the most on his team.

All in all, Salo has been playing terrific hockey this season and looks ready to compete for an NHL roster spot soon. He logs big minutes for Örebro and plays against other teams’ top forwards. He has clearly put in the work to improve his skating, particularly stride and foot speed, which has helped him elevate the rest of his game. He facilitates zone exits, generates controlled entries and distributes the puck well at 5-on-5 and on the power play.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he earns a regular spot on the New York Islanders blueline in a couple of years. He is still unsigned by the club, but I do believe that a deal will be done before he would become a free agent in 2021.

Cover photo: Johan Bernström/Bildbyrån

All videos courtesy of InStat Hockey