Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows need to have growth spurts
Only president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz can say for sure how big a part first-round forwards Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows will play in the Islanders’ future.
Both went through inconsistent seasons, both in terms of playing time and on-ice production. But for the Islanders to make this just a one-season absence from the playoffs, they need to get younger with more consistent scoring from their wings.
“It hasn’t been easy for them,” Anders Lee said during Saturday’s exit interviews at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. “Getting into the lineup, staying in the lineup, it’s not easy to do. For Kieffer to close out the year the way he has, it was great to see. I see it not only in his game but in the mental side of growing and being tough and handling all the things that this game throws at you.
“Wahlly is working through it and he’s going to be a great player for us.”
Wahlstrom, the 11th overall pick in 2018, had 13 goals and 11 assists in 73 games while averaging 12:04 of ice time. But he was unable to produce during a late-season stint with playmaking center Mathew Barzal and finished the season on the fourth line.
Bellows, selected 19th overall in 2016, had six goals and 13 assists in 45 games while averaging 11:52. That included two goals and two assists in his last five games when he skated among the top-six forwards.
“I’d like to think that I grew a lot as a player with my all-around game,” Bellows said. “That comes a lot from the guys that we have in the locker room. It comes from watching the work ethic of the veterans and learning the game the right way from the coaches.”
Trotz did not shy away from criticizing their play publicly, often talking about the consistency that needed to be in their games and, specifically, the ability to play strong defense.
“I need tough love sometimes,” Wahlstrom said. “It’s part of the game, it’s part of the business. There were ups and downs for me this year. I love the game and I take information in and try to use that. It was a good learning experience for sure.”
This was the first time either went through a full 82-game NHL season. The previous season was truncated to 56 games and played only within the division in deference to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I didn’t know what to expect traveling over to California. I’d never been over there,” said Wahlstrom, originally from Quincy, Massachusetts. “Or hopping on the plane at 4 a.m. and then playing another game. It was a really good learning experience from that side.”