Oliver Wahlstrom attending Barry Trotz's school of continuing education
The Islanders' morning skate was ending and, one by one, the regulars made their way off ice. That would have included Oliver Wahlstrom, who was in Monday night’s lineup against the Avalanche at UBS Arena.
But instead, Wahlstrom lingered at center ice, involved in a lengthy conversation with Barry Trotz. No transcript was provided, obviously. But it certainly looked like a teaching moment with the veteran coach going over the finer points of hockey with the 21-year-old Wahlstrom, who the organization believes can develop into one of their top forwards.
There is certainly plenty of fan impatience for Wahlstrom to be given more ice time and a larger on-ice role, like, say, on the top line. Wahlstrom entered Monday’s contest averaging a modest 12:57 of ice time, though he has a power-play role and had 11 goals and 10 assists through his first 47 games, meaning he’s been out of the lineup only five times this season.
But Trotz frequently has tried to explain the process of developing the offensive-minded Wahlstrom, who possesses a blazing wrist shot, into a complete, two-way player.
He did so again on Saturday after Wahlstrom had the opening goal but logged only 8:52 in the Islanders' impressive 2-1 win over the Blues at UBS Arena.
"It’s a process with Wahlly," Trotz said. "It’s easy, everybody who says, ‘Aw, just put the kid in, he’ll be fine.’ It doesn’t work that way. You get confidence by earning it. If it comes easy to you and you run into a dry spell or a hard spell, you don’t know where to go. But if you make it a little bit hard and understand that everything is critical, then you understand that you start building your game, and then all the momentum and all that comes.
"With the young guys, you try to give them areas where they can have success. So a lot of times Wahlly will be out against third and fourth lines. You protect those young guys. Once they have good success there and then you can bump them up. I’ve seen so many players that you bump to the first line coming out of the draft. They’re playing against NHL stars and they don’t have success. There’s nowhere to go when you’re there. So it’s OK to start here. He’s going to get to the next rung."
Trotz is also trying to teach Wahlstrom more situational awareness. For instance, in a recent game, Wahlstrom started a shift while two defensemen had been stuck on the ice. Rather than help get the blueliners back to the bench, Wahlstrom turned the puck over and extended their shift.
Trotz’s methods — which sometimes come across as tough love with his public comments — has led to outside speculation the coach may not like the player.
But watching their interactions, such as Monday, quickly prove that a false narrative.
For Monday was not an uncommon sight.
At an optional practice in Seattle during the Islanders’ recent six-game road trip, Trotz, not on ice for the session, came out to the bench area and called Wahlstrom over. Trotz then threw an arm over Wahlstrom’s shoulder and beamed at his player, with Wahlstrom also wearing a wide smile. The two spent several minutes at the bench joking around.
"For every young player, it’s always without the puck for me," Trotz said. "With the puck, I never say, ‘Don’t shoot. Don’t make a play.’
"He’s got lots of talent. Don’t be impatient with him. He’s going to be good. He’s going to be fine. You guys are like McDonald’s, you guys want everything right now."