Simon Holmstrom #10 of the Islanders skates against Andrew Cogliano...

Simon Holmstrom #10 of the Islanders skates against Andrew Cogliano #11 of the Colorado Avalanche at UBS Arena on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The question was put simply to former first-rounder Simon Holmstrom, still only 22 and in his second NHL season: How good does he think he can be?

“It’s a tough question,” Holmstrom said. “I don’t know. I guess time will tell. But you never know.”

His improvement this season has been one of the better things surrounding the Islanders’ so-so start. Holmstrom again was elevated to Bo Horvat’s top line with Mathew Barzal to start Saturday night’s game against the Capitals at UBS Arena.

Always a steady defensive player, Holmstrom had four goals in his first 11 games, including shorthanded goals in two of the Islanders’ previous three games. He’s playing with an increased confidence and willingness to shoot, and he entered Saturday with goals in three of his last four games as he played on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s left wing along with Hudson Fasching.

The 23rd overall pick in 2019 — the last time the Islanders selected in the first round — had six goals and three assists in 50 games last season as a rookie.

Holmstrom acknowledged it was difficult for him that his development has not gone as quickly as he wanted.

“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “You always want to play at the top, that’s why you play the game. I’ve still got a long way to go and I know I’ve got way more. But it’s a couple of good steps as well, and when you play more, you get more confidence as well.”

Pageau, who set up both of Holmstrom’s shorthanded goals, said Holmstrom’s increased confidence is easy to see.

“From the locker room, we see it,” Pageau said. “What is amazing is you don’t see it really in his personality or the way he acts. He always looks composed, calm. I think that’s a strength. He comes in and he’s confident in what he does. In his game, you see so much more. I really feel like he took a big step forward.

“It’s fun to see him grow. I’ve seen him for a couple of years now, and to see him play with confidence like that is amazing.”

Holmstrom’s stoic veneer did slip after his first shorthanded goal gave the Islanders a two-goal lead in an eventual 4-3 overtime loss to the visiting Hurricanes on Nov. 4. His smile was half joy, half pure amazement.

“One of the rare times we saw him extremely happy,” Pageau said. “It was cool to see him like that. When he plays with that confidence, he can make a game difference.”

Despite Holmstrom’s comfort and chemistry with Pageau, coach Lane Lambert opted to use him on Horvat’s line against the Capitals while moving slumping Anders Lee — who entered Saturday without a point in seven games — to Pageau’s line.

Holmstrom played with Horvat and Barzal in three of the six preseason games and for the first three games of the regular season.

But Holmstrom took just one shot on net in those first three games, then was a healthy scratch for the only time this season in the fourth game, a 2-1 loss in Buffalo on Oct. 21.

Holmstrom entered Saturday tied for 12th on the Islanders with 11 shots.

Which is not enough.

Said Lambert, “We want to see how he plays up with Horvat and Barzal.”

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