EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — This has been an excruciating wait for New York Islanders winger Oliver Wahlstrom.
After suffering an ACL injury in December, he had to wait until July just to start skating and wasn’t even a full go until August. Now, donning a brace on his knee that he’ll wear this season, the 23-year-old who still has a lot to prove to the Islanders is coming into the new year with a new philosophy.
“My mind this year is like an ‘eff-it’ mindset,” Wahlstrom said. “Just go out and have fun because I already did nine months of preparing.”
Wahlstrom holds the potential to be a first-line-caliber left-winger for the Islanders. He’s had the raw skillset for years with a plus wrist shot and playmaking capabilities. But his main priority is to develop into more of a power forward — utilizing a 6-foor-2, 200-pound frame to provide more of a physical presence to open up more opportunities and to provide more of a two-way game that has become the Islanders’ M.O. over the past six years.
It’s the aspect of a game that has seemingly held Wahlstrom back. Over his first 161 career games, he’s scored 32 goals with 29 assists for 61 points, which are numbers that the Islanders ultimately hoped he would post in a single season when they took him 11th overall in 2018.
“That’s the next step. It’s just to focus on the games,” Wahlstrom said. “It doesn’t matter about the points and producing. It’s feeling good about the game and what I did, and how I contribute. Also, the opportunity to grow as a player here. Each year I’m getting older and more mature and wiser.”
The time on the shelf helped Wahlstrom realign his mindset while he waited to get back on the ice. But the elongated rehab has allowed him to regain the confidence to feel as though he can adopt his game’s new identity after overcoming such a serious injury.
“I got more bounce in my step now, I’m stronger,” he said. “I had time to work on muscles I don’t normally work on… I had a lot of time to think about my body and take care of my body.”
That lack of trepidation will be necessary to be the power forward he’s been talking about becoming.
“The thing about a power forward is that you’re not afraid,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “He goes to the net hard, he plays physical, and he can shoot the puck. I think that’s the logical next step for him.”