Saturday night was a game 10 months in the making for New York Islanders winger Oliver Wahlstrom.
Following a season-ending ACL injury in December, an arduous rehab, and a slow, steady build-up back to NHL game shape, the 23-year-old drew into the lineup during the Islanders’ 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
“I was super excited,” Wahlstrom said (h/t Ethan Sears, New York Post). “It’s been a long road… There’s some tough days, but it’s good to be back.”
Playing the right wing of the first line beside Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat, he slotted in for Simon Holmstrom, who was given the night off on the second leg of a back-to-back, according to head coach Lane Lambert. In a little over 12 minutes of ice time, he recorded one shot with three hits.
“I thought he had a couple of situations that you would call near-misses,” Lambert said of Wahlstrom’s debut. “He had a couple opportunities to make some plays — he just missed on the pass or whatever it might be. I thought he was OK. I thought he played hard, I thought he hit, and I thought he had a good first game, especially since it’s been such a long time.”
It’s what Wahlstrom classified as “growing pains,” which naturally are a part of returning from a significant injury lay-off. There was an abundance of rust to be knocked off during preseason and it showed, which was why he couldn’t break into the starting lineup for the first three games.
Instead, he skated as an extra during practice alongside fellow winger Julien Gauthier — who also debuted on Saturday night — often staying on the ice nearly an hour after the rest of the team wrapped up.
“It’s a little shock, the first two periods, and obviously felt good those two periods,” Wahlstrom said. “And then the third period came, I got a little tired. That’s part of it. I’ve been off for, I don’t know, 10-and-a-half months. I just have to keep getting into it.”
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