With the NHL salary cap stagnant for a second straight season, New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello must get creative to keep the Islanders under the cap without decreasing the talent if possible. Less than a year ago, restricted free agent Devon Toews was shipped to Colorado to save the Islanders money and sign back key free agents and now a similar situation could be developing with Oliver Wahlstrom
Defenseman Noah Dobson showed Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz enough in his first season, 2019-20, which allowed Toews to become expendable. Has Wahlstrom done the same to make another player become expendable?
The 11th overall pick in 2018 showed signs in year one that he could become a prolific goal scorer for the Islanders, who haven’t had one of those in quite some time. Although Wahlstrom’s first season did not see him as a Calder Trophy Finalist, his play put him in the spotlight. He showcased a strong shot and a knack for shooting without hesitation.
Despite not having played a full 82-game schedule, it seems that Wahlstrom is ready to be an everyday player. The question becomes does he stay on the third line, or does he see his role elevated?
Again, it comes down to Trotz and his belief in the young forward.
It also comes down to what Lamoriello can do to relieve some cap pressure.
With the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft on the horizon, the belief that Wahlstrom could take a big step in year two may have significant barrings on who is protected.
In a recent article, we looked at two Islanders players that may be left unprotected to shed much-needed cap space. Jordan Eberle was one of those players, and despite a solid regular season and postseason, is he potentially holding Wahlstrom back from more minutes?
In 11 fewer games and 4:22 fewer minutes per game, Wahlstrom finished the season just four goals shy of Eberle.
Now Eberle did have a factor that certainly contributed to his production, and that was the loss of Anders Lee after Game 27 of the regular season.
Nevertheless, the 31-year old forward finished the regular season third on the Islanders in scoring, with 16 goals in 55 games (0.29 GPG). He was fourth on the team with 14 assists (0.31 APG) and finished the shortened season fourth on the Islanders with 33 points (0.60 PPG). He ended the season with a shooting percentage of 12.5.
After appearing in nine games in 2019-20, the Massachusetts native had a much more significant role this past season. He had to earn his minutes, as a few Islanders got a chance on the third line. While the grind of the hectic season seemed to get to Wahlstrom towards the end of the year, he was able to be a contributing offensive piece to a lineup that was offensively challenged during the regular season.
Wahlstrom’s production was not as high as Eberle’s, since he played in 12 fewer games. Even with that glaring difference, the numbers showcased that the young forward still averaged fewer points per game (0.48), goals per game (0.27), and assists per game (0.20). These statistics show that Wahlstrom’s knack is scoring goals, while Eberle seemed to bring more to his game.
His assist numbers were not particularly close to Eberle’s on a game-to-game basis, but Wahlstrom created rebounds at a significantly higher rate. And that holds value when Lee is a potential linemate.
Oliver Wahlstrom has had a knack for putting the puck on net. We saw him take 94 shots this past season, which is roughly 2.14 shots per game. While Eberle averaged 2.33 shots per game, it seems that the third-line winger’s shots were more effective at creating chances for his linemates.
He created 13 rebounds (.30 per game), while Eberle only created three (.05 per game). Given the need for offense, Wahlstrom makes a case here on how effective he can be alongside Barzal and Lee if he can keep this number up.
In regards to the powerplay, Wahlstrom was much more effective than Eberle.
In 51:58 fewer power-play minutes than Eberle, Wahlstrom collected four goals and six assists. Eberle only scored once on the man advantage, with four assists.
Eberle has been known to be a streaky player, while Oliver Wahlstrom was certainly one this past season.
In 55 games Eberle saw two streaks of seven or more games without a goal, with three multi-goal games. In Wahlstrom’s 44 games, he saw two streaks of 10 or more games without a goal, scoring in back-to-back games three times.
Eberle failed to do so once this season.
Now Eberle could very well remain with the Islanders. He could be protected in the expansion draft as keeping him only makes the Islanders a deeper team. However, seeing Eberle go not only allows for his $5.5 million cap hit to be used to sign a goal-scorer like Kyle Palmieri but also allows for Wahlstrom to play more minutes, which in turn should mean more offensive production.