The call came on Sunday, shortly after Oliver Wahlstrom had arrived home at 7 a.m. from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ AHL road game against the Charlotte Checkers the night before and taken a quick nap.
It was the Islanders on the phone. With fellow forwards Jordan Eberle and Casey Cizikas injured, might young Oliver be able to join them for Monday’s game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum?
Yes, Wahlstrom told them, that could be arranged. He then pointed his car toward Long Island. “I was driving pretty fast,” he said. “It was probably dangerous because I wanted to get here so quickly.”
It was worth the trip.
Not only did the 19-year-old, whom the Islanders drafted 11th overall in 2018, make a positive first impression in his NHL debut, but he got to be part of a dramatic victory.
The Islanders won in overtime, 3-2, after trailing 2-0 with 5½ minutes remaining. So confident was coach Barry Trotz in Wahlstrom that he had him on the ice in the final two minutes with the Islanders down a goal.
“I was getting nervous; I didn’t want to lose in my first game. That wouldn’t be fun,” Wahlstrom said. “Obviously, getting the win was pretty much the biggest thing ever.”
Wahlstrom got to share the moment with his father, Joakim, who caught a very early flight from Georgia on Monday morning, in time to help get his son ready by picking out a tie for him to wear to the game.
“He got a little emotional, so I had to leave, get out of there before he teared up,” Wahlstrom said. “But it’s really special to have him here.”
Joakim grew up in Sweden. Oliver is from Maine, with the New England accent to prove it. But he showed from the start on Monday that he speaks NHL language on the ice.
After a lackluster season at Boston College, he joined the Sound Tigers for the end of last season and began this season there, recording a goal and two assists in four games.
Trotz said before Monday’s game that Wahlstrom could stick even after Eberle returns. “We’re going to go with the best player,” he said. “He’s going to step in today and try to make a case for himself.”
That he did, looking confident from the start, throwing his 6-2, 209-pound body around, getting some scoring chances and generally looking as if he belongs. He skated primarily on a line with Derick Brassard and Josh Bailey.
“I thought for his first game he didn’t look out of place at all,” Trotz said. “He was physical, the speed wasn’t an issue. I thought he moved his feet, stayed involved, didn’t watch the game.”
Trotz said he deployed Wahlstrom late in the game in part because he needed a righthanded shot, but he could do so only because of what he had seen to that point.
“The way he played allowed us with no hesitation to put him in that position,” Trotz said.
The Islanders hope he will develop into a top-six forward on a team that could use some firepower. Officially in his debut, he played 15:13, including 1:07 on the power play, and had two shots, one hit and one giveaway.
He said he “blanked out a little bit” the first time he walked into the locker room, unsure what to think.
Then came the traditional solo skate during warmups for his NHL debut, during which he said, “I didn’t know if I should skate fast or slow. Obviously, you dream of that when you’re a kid.”
Finally, there were the first few actual shifts, during which he was . . . very active. “I was a little jacked up,” he said, smiling.
But he remembered the advice from teammates to enjoy the moment and not rush things.
For one day, his “dream come true” lived up to its billing. Now that he has had a taste of it, does he plan to stay?
“Obviously, that’s the goal,” he said. “But for me right now, it’s just take it one day at a time, keep winning and go from there. I’m a happy-go-lucky kid just here working hard and taking it a day at a time.”
Day One was a keeper.