EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Oliver Wahlstrom admitted that it’s not a fast process getting his game back up to NHL speed after a 10-month layoff from his Achilles injury suffered last December. But the Islanders appear to be doing what they can to help things along for the 23-year-old winger.
Wahlstrom has reunited on center Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s right-wing within the Islanders’ third line to provide a bit of familiarity for the young forward who is trying to clamp down a permanent NHL role on Long Island.
“I know his game and we’ve played together for the majority of my career here,” Wahlstrom said of getting to work with Pageau again after making his season debut on the first line with Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat during Saturday’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres. “When I came in my first year here he was kind of my mentor. I was asking him questions and it was really fun to play with him because he knows my game and he knows the things I like.”
Between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, Wahlstrom and Pageau spent over 400 minutes of even-strength time together — Wahlstrom recording 25 goals in 117 games during that stretch in his age 20 and 21 seasons.
“He tries to get pucks to me in areas and I know what he does,” Wahlstrom said of Pageau. “He’s good at being low and slow in the D-zone and coming up the ice. He’s pretty sneaky down low, too, so I feel we work pretty well together and we also have some fun together. He’s the guy who keeps it loose and it helps us young guys play our game.”
This feels like a make-or-break season for Wahlstrom, who is a restricted free agent after this season and has yet to hit the lofty benchmarks of developing into a top-six scorer for the Islanders. He posted seven goals and nine assists in 35 games last season before suffering that season-ending Achilles injury in a December game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He missed the first three games of the 2023-24 season as he continues to work his way back up to everyday game-playing shape, but the opportunity to at least take a stranglehold on New York’s third line is still there for the taking as Hudson Fasching and Julien Gauthier skated as extras on Tuesday.
“I think he’s got the skill set and the mind to be good with anyone, but we’ve had success before together,” Pageau said of working with Wahlstrom. “So we kind of know where we’re going to be in which spot and when we’ll be around the net. We already have some little plays that we’ve done in the past that I know we’re going to try to do, so I think on his side also, to have a center that he’s played with probably makes it easier for him, too.”