Oliver Wahlstrom’s phone was busy with incoming activity. The texts and the calls from friends and family kept coming after his dream came true with his NHL debut.
The 19-year-old right wing didn’t score in the Islanders’ 3-2 win in overtime against the Stanley Cup champion Blues Monday at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum. But he didn’t hesitate to shoot and use his 6-2, 211-pound body for checking purposes. He played mostly on the third line with Derick Brassard and Josh Bailey, but he also saw time on the first line late in the third.
Wahlstrom didn’t have a moment when he knew he belonged. He already knew.
“I always have that mentality that I belong,” Wahlstrom said after practice Wednesday. “I think it’s what you need to have when you come up . . . I want to stay. I want to keep working and keep improving.”
Now that the first one is out of the way, he has to prove he should stay and not be sent back to Bridgeport. The Islanders called up the 11th overall pick in the 2018 draft when they put center Casey Cizikas on IR. Right wing Jordan Eberle is also out with a lower-body injury. But those aren’t supposed to be long-term issues.
Barry Trotz didn’t rule out keeping Wahlstrom. The coach said the “first sighting was very encouraging.” But now Trotz needs to see more of the same, starting with Thursday night’s game at Winnipeg.
“I know what he does,” Trotz said. “Just be consistent night in and night out. Compete night in and night out. Keep learning. Keep pushing. Don’t get comfortable.”
Bailey sees a player with a huge upside.
“He can shoot,” Bailey said. “I mean, he’s got a high-end shot. I think he has the ability that people are going to see to score some big-time goals. He plays hard, too. He’s got some bite to his game. Yeah, I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from him. He’s a really good kid, too. I think that’s what we all respect the most.”
Wahlstrom scored 48 goals for the U.S. Under-18 National Team in 2017-18. He called his scoring ability “the best part of my game,” and said as he plays more, he’ll “get more confidence and a little more used to the time and space and pace of the game.”
To him, the way to stay is clear.
“I think for me it’s just to work hard and skate and use my legs and use my speed,” Wahlstrom said. “I know my shot’s there. I know I can put the puck in the net. But for me right now it’s just moving my feet, keep the game simple and still take things in and learn from the other guys.”
Notes & quotes: Trotz said Eberle and Cizikas weren’t accompanying the team to Winnipeg. Asked about the game at Columbus Saturday night, Trotz said, “I think they’re going to miss the trip right now. That’s the indication.”