EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Since his preseason preparations at rookie camp started last month, New York Islanders winger Simon Holmstrom has been told by his coaching staff to shoot the puck more.
The 22-year-old winger possesses a plus shot. He showed flashes of it last season but was trigger-shy or inaccurate in a rookie campaign that featured just three goals in 50 games. Winning a roster spot from rookie camp, he was given a chance to start the season on the right wing of the first line alongside center Bo Horvat and winger Mathew Barzal. While he played a sound defensive game and created in the neutral zone, he still wasn’t shooting. In his first three games, he put just one shot on goal.
“With him not shooting the puck early in the season on that top line, I think he was trying to make some plays,” head coach Lane Lambert said. “When you’re playing on that line or when you’re playing on any line and you have that shot you possess like he has, you have to use it no matter what happens.”
It was why Lambert has continuously implored Holmstrom to let it rip when he has the chance — jumping on that narrative after New York’s opening-night win over the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 14 and making sure it’s engrained in the young forward’s head.
“I agree with him and I’ve been looking at the film the last couple games and just trying to figure out where I can get the shot off,” Holmstrom said. “And I think last game was a good step up for that.”
On Tuesday night, he was moved to the third line where he spent most of the night alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Cal Clutterbuck where he showed much better results. Holmstrom fired his first goal of the season with that highly-touted wrister in the second period while getting three shots on goal in the Islanders’ 7-4 loss.
“I think he’s looking confident… I feel like he’s holding onto the puck more now,” Lambert said. “He has more confidence to make plays and we know he can shoot. He started shooting right from Day 1 of rookie camp so that was my biggest question when he was with Barzy and Horvat. Just shoot the puck and we saw what he could do [Tuesday] night when he does shoot the puck.”
While Lambert commended Holmstrom for being “very receptive,” throughout the process, the winger looked more comfortable playing alongside the veteran bottom-six forwards in Pageau and Clutterbuck — the latter also notching his first goal of the season in the loss on Tuesday.
“Pageau and Cluttebruck play a different game than [Horavt] and [Barzal] so you have to adjust a little bit,” Holmstrom said. “You just have to adapt and make the best of it… I know I have the shot. I also know that I need to use it more but it’s nice to get the first one.”
Considering how he’s perceived by his teammates, including his new linemate in Pageau, the effort he’s putting in through the early portions of the 2023-24 season can result in a major payoff in the near future.
“He’s been working so hard all year and he truly deserved [that goal],” Pageau said of Holmstrom. “You see the confidence that’s building in his game and that’s very dangerous because he’s really good. He’s good with the puck, without the puck, and if he plays with that confidence, he’s a great player.”