Rookie Oliver Wahlstrom shows signs of progress for Islanders
The booming sound of the puck hitting goalie Linus Ullmark’s pad reverberated through the nearly empty Nassau Coliseum, and the circumstances and result of Oliver Wahlstrom’s heavy power-play shot told an encouraging story of the rookie’s progress.
Most important, it led to Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s winner at 15:08 of the third period in Monday night’s 3-2 victory over the Sabres to start a stretch of nine of 10 at home. The Islanders, who were off on Tuesday, next host the East Division-leading Bruins on Thursday night.
But it also showed Wahlstrom’s relentless willingness to shoot, justifying coach Barry Trotz’s decision to reinsert him onto the second power-play unit for Anthony Beauvillier and trust him in a late-game situation with two points in the balance.
"Yeah, it’s nice," said Wahlstrom, the 11th overall pick in 2018 who has a goal and two assists in 11 games this season after going without a point in nine games last season. "I have a good, easy job there to rip them."
The Islanders are tied for 22nd in the NHL with 44 goals (2.4 per game), and Wahlstrom could alleviate their long-standing need for more scoring.
"I think I’ve always had confidence," Wahlstrom said. "For me, right now, just enjoy the process, enjoy playing the right way without the puck. I think when I enjoy those little details in my game, I think the rest will suit itself and pucks might start going in."
Wahlstrom had two shots on net and five total chances against the Sabres. His one goal has come on 24 shots (4.2%).
But he’s found a steady spot playing nine straight games on Pageau’s right wing. On the power play, the right-shooting Wahlstrom sets up for one-timers in the left circle, the same spot hard-shooting defenseman Ryan Pulock mans on the Islanders’ first power-play unit and that Alex Ovechkin has essentially trademarked for the Capitals, Trotz’s former team.
"Wahlly’s got a great shot," Pageau said. "He missed the net a few times. He was just trying to get it on net there and I was lucky to get the rebound."
"The trust is earned," Trotz said of using Wahlstrom in those situations. "A lot of credit goes to his linemates. Pager has a great influence on Wahlly. I think Wahlly has done a couple of things. His fitness level has gotten to the NHL level. His skating has improved. He’s moving his feet a lot more. His hands are undeniable NHL caliber. His detail in terms of the defensive part of the game has improved immensely."
Wahlstrom also has an NHL big body at 6-2, 205 pounds. That size sometimes makes it easy to forget he won’t turn 21 until June.
Which is why having Pageau as a veteran mentor has been important.
"He’s just an unbelievable guy," Wahlstrom said. "He took me under his wing right away and he’s an easy guy to talk to. It’s fun learning from him. I’m not afraid to ask him questions. He’s been getting my confidence up a little bit."
Notes & quotes: The NHL rescheduled the Islanders’ game at Boston from April 14 to April 15 at 7 p.m.