Oliver Wahlstrom’s patience, concentration paying off for the Islanders
Oliver Wahlstrom’s power-play goal at 11:53 of the first period Monday didn’t stand out for any milestones, not even for its impact on the Islanders’ eventual 4-2 victory. No, that mattered because of what happened before.
Before the season, Wahlstrom talked about a new mindset, saying he put too much pressure on himself last season during an abysmal second half. His playing time last year was inconsistent and so was his approach. Monday’s preparation was the first chance this season to see if they would lend themselves to action.
Wahlstrom had been scoreless in eight games and his ice time had dipped below 10 minutes in three straight games. Coach Lane Lambert sat him for the final stretch of games regularly, including the final 7:09 of the third period and overtime against Columbus two days earlier. It would have been easy to pout.
Instead, Wahlstrom put words to action.
“I think I’m a lot better in this situation now,” Wahlstrom told The Post on Wednesday, before the Islanders flew to Nashville for Thursday’s game against the Predators. “Just calmer. It is what it is.
“Obviously I want to be out there, obviously I want to contribute, but at the same time, for a young player, there are responsibilities. I’m not learning the process right now. I stick with it and enjoy the process as well.”
At 22, Wahlstrom remains the youngest player on the Islanders, with five months between him and Alexander Romanov and Noah Dobson (the members of the second defensive pairing were born just a day apart). That’s a fact that gets lost in the discourse surrounding a player in his third full NHL season. So is this: development is rarely a straight line.
Despite that scoreless streak, Wahlstrom has nine points (five goals, four assists) in 16 games, and is scoring nearly double what he did last season. It won’t all come tomorrow, but if he stays on course, there’s still a long way to go for the talented youngster.
“For me, it’s just keeping my mind straight,” Wahlstrom said. “Obviously there’s going to be frustrations in the game. It’s not about letting that get to you. Being even-keeled, not too high, not too low, no matter the ice time, no matter what the situations are. Stay calm.”
Lambert’s message, at least when speaking to reporters, has been one of consistent encouragement. He’d like to see Wahlstrom use his shot more, but noted Wednesday that his mindset has been in the right place
“He’s doing a really good job of refocusing and focusing on what he can control and doing the best he can,” Lambert said. “As a result, it’s succeeding.”
The Islanders want Wahlstrom to be a power forward who can play an intense game and threaten opposing goaltenders. It’s not hard to see a line from there to be a consistent partner with Mathew Barzal. And indeed, the two have been together frequently this season, outscoring opponents 8-2 at even strength, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Perhaps last season, when calls from the fanbase to see them together reached a fever pitch before the couple fell out, it was too soon. There will be more ups and downs to come: Wahlstrom’s development curve is far from over, but the signs are good.
“Obviously my game is still growing and going in the right direction,” Wahlstrom said. “A lot of veteran guys that I can still lean on. For me right now, it’s just playing the right way and I still lean on the guys.
“Patience is key for me. I know when I get a look in a game, there’s a big opportunity.”
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