The kind of goal that Oliver Wahlstrom scored on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Wild was worth the 333-day wait.
Midway through the second period and with the Islanders on the power play, the 23-year-old winger accepted a pass from Pierre Engvall as he entered the Wild zone. Coming down the left wing, Wahlstrom dragged the puck toward the boards to elude the reach of one defenseman and as another came to help, cut between the both of them on to his forehand at the left face-off circle before lifting a shot over goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and into the back of the net.
“It was great,” Wahlstrom told amNewYork. “It was a good pass by Engie there and I just need to attack and keep playing offensive. That’s the mindset.”
Goals, like playing time, have come at a premium for Wahlstrom, who was shelved from any hockey activity for nearly 10 months after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in December — his last goal before Tuesday night coming on Dec. 9 in New Jersey against the Devils. While he was able to resume hockey activities at the start of training camp, the slow build-up toward NHL-caliber conditioning had him as a healthy scratch for half of the Islanders’ first 10 games.
“He’s still finding his way a little bit out there after missing so much time,” star forward Mathew Barzal said. “When he’s keeping it simple, hitting, and shooting, he’s effective with that great shot.”
Tuesday night saw Wahlstrom moved up to the first line alongside Barzal with Bo Horvat battling an ankle injury. He put up a season-high four shots while blocking a pair on the defensive end in the 4-2 loss, garnering the praise of head coach Lane Lambert in the process.
“A goal-scorer needs to score goals,” Lambert said. “When he does, he feels good. What I liked about his game is he was hard, he was assertive. For lack of a better term, he just worked. And he got rewarded for it.”
Not only is Wahlstrom still acclimating to a full workload after his injury, he’s also continuing to transition his game toward what he hopes will be more of a power forward type of style — adding physicality and sound defensive play to that pre-existing offensive skillset.
But it’s important for him not to move too far away from displaying that shot as much as possible, which made him a first-round selection five years ago.
“It’s always been that,” Wahlstrom said. “That’s always been a part of my game. It’s just being able to find it. Find it and use it more. I need to use my defensive play but also play more offensive, too, because that’s my style.