At 20 years old, Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom is taking the rare opportunity afforded to him by Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello — two hockey minds who usually have an aversion from giving younger players extended playing time — and running with it.
Wahlstrom has appeared in each of the Islanders’ last nine games, bringing his season total up to 11, where he’s working on the right-wing of third-line center Jean-Gabriel Pageau while getting looks on the second power-play unit behind a blazing wrist shot that is well above the NHL average.
Consistent playing time is only helping the youngster find his legs in the NHL.
“It’s helped a lot,” Wahlstrom said. “Obviously, I’m still learning and taking things from the older guys but it’s just been fun. I’ve been enjoying every moment. I’m going to continue to learn and play great without the puck.”
He has three points in those 11 games played this season, including a power-play assist on Pageau’s game-winning goal late in the third period on Monday night against the Buffalo Sabres. It was one of Wahlstrom’s wicked writers from the left circle that opened the chance for Pageau to lift New York to a 3-2 win, snapping a two-game losing streak — a helper that is only a slight repayment for what the veteran center has done for the youngster.
“He’s just an unbelievable guy,” Wahlstrom said of Pageau. “He took me under his wing right away… It’s fun learning from him and he’s been a huge help. He’s been getting my confidence up.”
Wahlstrom is also providing Pageau with a consistent linemate; something he hadn’t had all through training camp and throughout the early portions of the season.
“He’s a smart player and a way better shooter than I am so I don’t worry about him,” Pageau said about his linemate.
The goals aren’t necessarily coming yet for Wahlstrom despite that highly-touted shot, but it’s his play off the puck that’s earning him this playing time from his head coach.
“Trust is earned. A lot of credit goes to the player, a lot of credit goes to his linemates like [Pageau],” Trotz said. “I think he has a great influence on [him]. [Wahlstrom’s] fitness level has gotten to the NHL level, his skating has improved and he’s moving his feet a lot more, his hands are undeniable at the NHL level and his shot, his defensive part of his game has improved immensely.
“The compete level is good, he uses that strong body and is strong on the puck… He continues to grow and be a young talent that we have to continue to develop. Looking at how he came to camp a few years ago, he’s a different player.”
That makes the worry about finding the back of the net a little less important, especially in Trotz’s structured system.
“You need one bounce to go in and then your confidence will go up from there,” Pageau said. “When you don’t have chances, that’s when you start to worry but he’s creating chances… I wouldn’t change anything [about Wahlstrom’s game].”
“I’ve always had confidence, but for now, it’s just enjoy the process,” Wahlstrom said. “When I enjoy those little details in my game, the rest will suit itself and pucks will start going in.”