For New York Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom, he came into training camp with a new sense of confidence. He worked hard this offseason, focusing on getting stronger and faster. He paid keen attention to what he put in his body and tried to reset his mind after a rather stressful 2021-22 campaign.
Early on in training camp, Oliver Wahlstrom looked lighter on his feet and more determined. He also skated as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulder.
Was that weight the pressure from former head coach Barry Trotz, who took the route of benching him and scratching him when he made mistakes?
Unfortunately for Wahlstrom, what he called “more of an upper-body injury” kept him out of the season-opening 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers. Each time we spoke to him, he said he felt better and better and was just trying to get that confidence back.
Following Saturday’s morning skate, Oliver Wahlstrom told NYI Hockey Now that he was feeling much better and that it was up to the coaching staff if he was to play.
New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert shared during his Saturday morning media availability that if Wahlstrom was in the lineup, he would need to do the following:
“When he gets in the lineup, we want to see his physical edge for sure. You know, we want to see him play a North game, and we want to see him shoot the puck because that is definitely his strength,” Lambert shared.
The first-year bench boss also shared that he believed Wahlstrom was in a good place mentally.
“I think mentally he’s done a really good job. As I said before, he took a lot of steps over the summer. You’ve heard it out of his own mouth in terms of how he wants to handle his situations.”
“And I think he’s in a good spot.”
When the puck dropped Saturday night, Oliver Wahlstrom was in the lineup alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Josh Bailey.
Although his minutes were limited, as special teams got in the way yet again like on Thursday, the 22-year-old made the most of his 9:44 TOI.
He ended his night with a goal on two shots, an assist, two hits, and, most importantly, zero turnovers.
Oliver Wahlstrom’s goal was not his usual type of goal, as the shooter showcased his skills as he beat Anaheim Ducks netminder John Gibson on a strong backhand move to give the New York Islanders an important three-goal cushion at 5:34 of the second period.
Oh Oliver… 🤯 pic.twitter.com/rm8fgynqPC
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) October 16, 2022
Here’s another look:
A close up of #Isles Oliver Wahlstrom’s breakaway goal courtesy of @ColbyDGuy: pic.twitter.com/6nHdbRd0m2
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) October 16, 2022
The goal came off a great feed from linemate Pageau, and with confidence, Wahlstrom got the job done. After the game, Wahlstrom talked more about the pass from Pageau than the highlight-reel goal.
“Obviously, it felt good. Great pass by Pager there,” Wahlstrom said. “He made an unbelievable defensive play, and I was able to bury it.”
As for how important that breakaway goal was for his confidence, Wahlstrom again put the attention on anything but the goal.
“Yeah, it’s obviously a plus, but at the same time, it’s the things that I can do away from the puck and the things I can do off the ice to get that back,” Wahlstrom said. “I have really good linemates tonight that I talked to a lot, and we had fun out there.”
“So, the chemistry is starting to come.”
Wahlstrom notched his second point of the night with 58 seconds to play in the third period as he found Robin Salo with a quick pass from the slot.
Another goal for Robin Salo (under review)
That’s two multi-goal games by Islanders’ defenseman.
That hasn’t happened since January 1993. pic.twitter.com/6fNh9ngkDc
— 𝐈𝐬𝐥𝐞𝐬 𝐅𝐢𝐱 (@IslesFix) October 16, 2022
Prior to his tally, Wahlstrom got in on the forecheck and then got himself into a smart spot on the ice as he made himself a pass option for Brock Nelson. That shows growth as Wahlstrom’s positional play was a weakness last season.
New York Islanders captain Anders Lee spoke to NYI Hockey Now at the start of training camp about Wahlstrom’s progression from his summer workout and was proud of what he had seen.
“I know that Wahlstrom put in a ton of work this summer,” Anders Lee said. “He did absolutely everything he could in his power to come into camp fine, and I think you’re going to see that here when we get going with games and his hard work is going to pay off.”
“And I’m really proud of him for what he did, and he should be [proud] of himself and come in and do what he’s doing but come in flying…Now it’s time to show it.”
After Wahlstrom showed it, NYI Hockey Now again caught up with Anders Lee to ask about Wahlstrom’s performance.
“So happy for Wahlstrom. It’s well deserved,” Lee said. “He’s put himself in a great position to have a successful season, and there’s nothing better than starting off your year popping one early.”
Lambert spoke on how important that goal was for Wahlstrom, but also about the goal not being the only standout from his showing.
“It’s gonna help him a lot. That’s one of his strengths, is to be able to score, I look at the overall game and the little things, Lambert said. “He was very good on the walls, getting pucks out, solid defensively. These are things that he’s doing well, as well. So, you know, it was a good night for him.”
Over his three-year NHL career, Oliver Wahlstrom has shown signs of being a goal-scorer, but too much of a one-dimensional player. There was no question that he had an NHL-caliber shot, but his inability to play the way the New York Islanders needed impacted his ability to contribute consistently.
With New York Islanders’ general manager often speaking about his trust in his young players, it’s critical for Oliver Wahlstrom to play a complete game in year four.
There’s an opening in the lineup on the third line, and it has not been cemented by either him or Kieffer Bellows.
For Oliver Wahlstrom, it’s about taking advantage of his minutes and showing that he can be more than just a goal scorer for the New York Islanders. And in game one, he showed that.
Now it’s about finding consistency and cementing his spot in the everyday lineup.
“Being a young guy, it’s always an audition. I mean, there’s no freebies,” Wahlstrom said Saturday morning. “It’s a business, and you know, you got to enjoy it too and have fun.”
Oliver Wahlstrom had fun on Saturday night as he showcased growth in his game and confidence. He likely has earned himself the opportunity to be back in the lineup Tuesday night when the New York Islanders face the San Jose Sharks at UBS Arena.