COLUMBUS, Ohio — It took more than three years for Simon Holmstrom to make his NHL debut, and it was only natural for the former first-round pick to wonder when his chance would come as he continued to play in the AHL.
“Of course,” Holmstrom said, “you have to deserve the chance. I was just trying to do my best down there and get it going. I knew it was coming someday and I was just very happy when it came.”
Holmstrom needed to wait only two days for his second chance. He again was in the Islanders’ lineup for Friday night’s game against the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
Kyle Palmieri (upper body) remains day-to-day and did not make the quick trip. The Islanders will face the Flyers on Saturday night at UBS Arena.
There’s no real sense of how long Palmieri might be absent, so there’s no telling how long a chance Holmstrom will have to show he belongs in the NHL full-time.
Holmstrom, selected 23rd overall in 2019, logged 11:11 in Wednesday night’s 3-0 win over the visiting Oilers as he skated on Mathew Barzal’s left wing along with Oliver Wahlstrom. He was on the ice for defenseman Sebastian Aho’s late third-period goal.
That trio remained together to start against the Blue Jackets, and there is some familiarity skating on that line for Holmstrom. He and Barzal worked together as linemates during training camp and Holmstrom was teammates with Wahlstrom with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport for the 2019-20 season.
“High skill,” Barzal said of Holmstrom. “Good IQ. Big body. Makes plays. I actually really like his game. He’s got a little bit of everything.
“He’s got a good stick. He makes good reads and he protects the puck really well, too. It was nice playing with him. I thought he made some good plays [Wednesday] that I didn’t really convert on. He gave me some good passes and good pucks that I could have done more with, so it was fun to see him make those little plays.”
The trio did not generate a shot on net against the Oilers. Holmstrom had one attempt blocked and, per Natural Stat Trick, was outchanced 10-5 with a low Corsi of 33.33.
The eye test, though, showed Holmstrom was effective on the forecheck and on the walls.
“He’s a very intelligent player and those little plays, those are things you have to do at this level, and I think he’s pretty good at it,” coach Lane Lambert said. “He steals pucks. He knows the position. He’s got a really good stick. I more or less expected that out of him as opposed to being surprised by it.”
Prodigious offensive production has not been part of the 6-2, 205-pound Holmstrom’s game with Bridgeport. He has three goals and two assists in 15 AHL games this season and set career highs with 12 goals and 31 assists in 68 games last season.
“He’s not going to be the fastest,” Barzal said. “He’s not going to blow anybody away with his speed. But he’s so smooth and plays with his head up. He’s going to be a guy that makes a lot of plays. He shoots the puck really well. He’s going to be shooting with deception and with trickiness. He’s not lightning-fast, but he doesn’t have to be.”
The speed of the game between the NHL and AHL is a key difference, Holmstrom noted.
“I would say just the speed, the strength,” he said. “Just better overall. It’s a better game and the people are a lot better.”