Islanders head coach Barry Trotz isn’t denying the importance of Oliver Wahlstrom — whether it’s for the team’s chances to make a playoff push this season or in the future.
He just needs to see a more dependable version of the young winger.
Wahlstrom was benched for the Islanders’ 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday — a disappointing end to an emotional day that began with the honoring of franchise legend Clark Gillies, who passed away on Friday.
The writing was on the wall that Friday night during New York’s 4-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes when — following a particularly bad turnover in the Islanders zone late in the second period — Wahlstrom was benched for the entire third period. He played just eight minutes in the win.
Kieffer Bellows stepped into the lineup for the 21-year-old, whose presence was missed for a team forced to play catch-up for most of the evening.
“Just consistency,” Trotz said when asked what he needs to see from Wahlstrom. “Wally is a big piece of what we do and a big piece of our future. But the consistency has been all over the map for me and that’s where I’m trying to reel it in a little bit with him.
“Being a really good pro — and I think Wally is going to be a really good pro — is the consistency level every night and I just thought he wasn’t where he should be the other night and I gave the chance to somebody else.”
Wahlstrom continues to be kept on a short leash by Trotz despite the young sniper potentially being the best option to line up alongside Mathew Barzal on the Islanders’ first line.
During Kyle Palmieri’s absence (lower-body injury), the right-wing spot on the first line has been a revolving door. Over the last four games, Trotz has used five different options to line up alongside Barzal and captain Anders Lee.
Wahlstrom, though, hasn’t been an option; and the head coach’s philosophy on why further shed light on Wahlstrom’s benching.
“If you’re playing with [Jean-Gabriel] Pageau, it’s probably pretty easy to pay with him because he’s predictable,” Trotz said back in December. “Playing with Barzal is not as predictable. That’s where moving a guy like Wahlstrom up sometimes can hinder him a little bit because you’re playing with a little bit of a wild card.
“He’s going to continue to evolve his game by learning to play with different sets of guys so that he’s not just ‘I’m a shooter, get me a puck and I’m going to score. There’s a lot more to that game than that one moment. He feels he’s a goal scorer and when he’s not scoring, that’s all he can think about.”
Hence why a bad turnover or two resulted in Wahlstrom, who hasn’t scored in his last 10 games, getting scratched on Saturday.