Islanders Rookie Oliver Wahlstrom Continues To Grow As An NHL Player

He’s so close to breaking out.  You just get the feeling that if puck one goes in, others will follow.

The reality is that Islanders rookie forward Oliver Wahlstrom is making the most of his opportunity…well as much as he can possibly do without actually doing what he was drafted for and that is score goals.  But without the goal production, Wahlstrom has been a regular in the Islanders lineup playing on a line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and he’s helped create a lot of chances.  In fact, he’s getting power play time and on Monday night and his blistering shot in the third period was stopped by Buffalo netminder Linus Ullmark and Pageau banged in the rebound for the game-winning goal in the Isles’ 3-2 win over the Sabres.

Wahlstrom has played very well this season and his confidence is growing because he’s been in the lineup on a consistent basis.

“Obviously, I’m still learning and taking things from the older guys,” said Wahlstrom who will turn 21 this coming June 13th.  “It’s just been really fun.  I’m enjoying every moment and coming to the rink with these guys is just so much fun and I’m going to continue to learn and continue to play great without the puck and just go from there.”

Wahlstrom has one goal and two assists for three points in eleven games but he has been very active creating scoring opportunities and he’s also grown in other areas and that is what has helped him open up some eyes.  Taken 11th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, Wahlstrom is not afraid to shoot the puck, but he remains a regular in the Islanders’ lineup because he has gained the trust of Head Coach Barry Trotz by doing other things well until the pucks start finding the back of the net.

Oliver Wahlstrom Continues To Earn The Islanders’ Trust: 

“The trust is earned,” said Trotz.  “A lot of credit goes to the player.  I think Wally has done a couple of things.  His fitness level has gotten to the NHL level.  His skating has improved and he’s moving his feet a lot more.  His hands are undeniable…NHL caliber shot.  His detail in terms of the defensive part of the game has improved immensely.”

A big reason why Wahlstrom’s game continues to improve is the chemistry that he’s built up with Pageau.  There’s been a revolving door of players making up the third spot on that line, but right now Wahlstrom and Pageau have been creating chances and right now the rookie is learning a lot from the veteran.

UNIONDALE, NY – FEBRUARY 22: New York Islanders Center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) reacts to scoring a goal along with New York Islanders Right Wing Oliver Wahlstrom (26) and New York Islanders Defenseman Nick Leddy (2) during the third period of the National Hockey League game between the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders on February 22, 2021, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

“He’s just an unbelievable guy,” said Wahlstrom of Pageau.  “He took me under his wing right away and he’s an easy guy to talk to and it’s fun learning from him.  I’m not afraid to ask him questions and he’s just been a huge help and he’s been getting my confidence up a little bit.”

And Pageau has been very impressed with Wahlstrom and can sense that the rookie has the ability to score goals.  A lot of them.

“He’s got a great release,” said Pageau.  “Wally has a great shot.  He’s a smart player and he’s a way better shooter than I am.  I’m not too worried about him.  Sometimes you just need one to go in, one bounce to in and your confidence goes right back up.  He’s doing great things.  He’s working hard to create chances.”

As Wahlstrom continues to work hard to get the goals to start going in, it’s been his play without the puck that is reason to be excited about what lies ahead.  That part of his game along with his improved defensive skills and his play along the boards has been a work in progress.   It’s easy to see how much he’s improved since the start of the season, but the Quincy, Massachusetts native knows that there is a lot of room for improvement.

“It’s a pretty good league so I have to find those open areas and just find those soft spots,” said Wahlstrom.  “I’m still learning that and I’m coming a long way so just gotta keep going.”

The Road To The Islanders Has Been All About The Hard Work Of Oliver Wahlstrom: 

After spending the 2018-19 season with Boston College, he turned pro and played five games late in the campaign for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.  Last season, he played in 45 games for the Sound Tigers before the pandemic cut short the AHL season, but Wahlstrom also got a taste of the NHL with a callup to the Islanders that lasted nine games.

Before the current NHL season started, Wahlstrom was loaned by the Islanders to a team in Sweden and his game continued to improve.  By the time he arrived at Islanders training camp at the beginning of January, there was no denying that he had a chance to be a part of the group.

And all of that hard work has been paying off.

UNIONDALE, NY – FEBRUARY 22: New York Islanders Right Wing Oliver Wahlstrom (26) controls the puck with Buffalo Sabres Center Sam Reinhart (23) and Buffalo Sabres Right Wing Victor Olofsson (68) in pursuit during the second period of the National Hockey League game between the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders on February 22, 2021, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

“All the little pieces that make a good player he’s chipping away at,” said Trotz.  “The compete level is good.  He’s strong on the puck so there’s a lot of things that are going on in him and obviously he’s getting power play time which allows us to use him there and use his talents.  He continues to grow and continues to be a young player that we have to develop.  Looking at him when he came to the first training camp until now, it’s a different player.”

With points in nine of their last eleven games, the Islanders have been making a move up the ladder in the East Division.  They are currently tied with the Penguins with 21 points, but with one less win that Pittsburgh, the Isles are sitting in fourth place but just three points behind the first place Boston Bruins who visit the Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night.

Wahlstrom’s play has certainly helped the Islanders right the ship but there’s still one aspect of his game that needs to come around and it’s the skill that led him to be what many experts called one of the steals of the 2018 draft…his ability to score goals.  He’s making things happen and that has earned him power play time and other valuable ice time like late in the third period of Saturday’s loss to the Penguins when the Isles were trailing by a goal and looking for the equalizer.

He’s playing with confidence right now and he’s going to continue to look for that offensive touch to come around, but not at the expense of what has earned him a regular spot in the lineup.

“I’ve always had confidence but I think for me right now just to enjoy the process and enjoy playing the right way without the puck,” said Wahlstrom.  “When I enjoy those little details in my game, I think the rest will suit itself and the pucks might start going in so just gotta have fun doing the right things and the little things and hopefully my chances will come.”

And when those chances start turning into goals, you might just see a part of Islanders Country turn into “Wally World”.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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