A serious knee injury in December cost Oliver Wahlstrom the rest of last season. But the former first-rounder believes it could ultimately help him develop into the consistently productive power forward the Islanders crave.
And it’s given him a “[heck with] it” attitude for this season.
“To be honest, it was probably the best eight months I’ve ever had in my life,” Wahlstrom said on Thursday as the Islanders opened training camp at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. “I got more balance in my step now. I’m stronger. I got time to work on muscles I don’t normally work on. An unbelievable reset for me just to respect the game.
“I think I built my confidence up through this injury. Going through this injury was extremely healthy for me. I had to take care of my body. I had to do the right things off the ice. I have found a little confidence in this injury. I’ve never been this excited to start the season.”
The sharpshooting right-handed shot had seven goals and nine assists in 35 games before injuring his ACL on Dec. 27. He resumed skating in mid-July, about the same time he re-signed a one-year, $874,125 deal as a restricted free agent.
Wahlstrom said he understands it’s a prove-it season.
“Oh, for sure,” said Wahlstrom, the 11th overall pick in 2018. “At the same time, I found a little more clarity in this injury. My mindset is I’ve got nothing to lose this year and the rest of my career. For me, that opens up things in my game.”
In all, Wahlstrom has 32 goals and 29 assists in 161 NHL games, including 10 goals and nine assists on the power play.
A best-case scenario for him and the team would be to earn a role as a top-six forward and establish his lethal shot from the left circle on the power play.
“It’s just one day,” coach Lane Lambert said. “I thought he looked good. Here’s a guy coming off a long, long injury. Today was not an easy day. I thought he shot the puck well.
“The thing about a power forward is you’re not afraid. He goes to the net hard. He plays physical and he can shoot the puck.”
Notes & quotes: Kyle Palmieri (maintenance) did not participate and Lambert said he was unsure whether the right wing would be able to skate with the team before Tuesday’s preseason opener against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The team said Palmieri has been skating on his own — including on Thursday — after suffering an unspecified injury during pre-camp workouts . . . Defenseman Alexander Romanov practiced after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. “Tough rehab,” Romanov said. “I spent four months without practicing with the whole group. I was skating by myself. It was tough days…” Projected top-liners Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal — who skated as the right wing — worked together along with prospect Arnaud Durandeau . . . AHL forward Tanner Fritz is in camp after rejoining the Islanders’ organization following two seasons in the Rangers’ organization.