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New York Islanders

Clutterbuck With Barzal, Why Wahlstrom Still Waits For Opportunity



New York Islanders

In Wednesday’s episode of “Which New York Islanders Player Gets a Crack With Mathew Barzal?” Cal Clutterbuck was the next contestant and did very well for himself.

Not only did Cal Clutterbuck contribute on offense, first helping to set up Anders Lee’s goal, and then Mathew Barzal’s, but he was able to play the defensive game that had awarded him the opportunity.

With Kyle Palmieri missing the New York Islanders contest Wednesday (paternity), Islanders head coach Barry Trotz decided to spread the weight around, as Ross Johnston was also in the lineup on the second line, with Matt Martin on the fourth.

It worked out as the Islanders had four lines rolling in the first period, which ended 5-0. The game changed in the second and third period, with Vancouver all over the Islanders, but two points is two points.

The biggest issue with finding a player to play alongside Mathew Barzal is that you need someone who can keep up with him physically and mentally. And on top of that, because of Barzal’s game, you also need someone who is defensive-minded given the amount of turnovers no. 13 commits.

Clutterbuck’s role with the New York Islanders has always been as a fourth-line player. He usually sits towards the top of the NHL’s hit list and has been the Islanders best fourth-liner this season.

Trotz has immense trust in him.

The same trust that Leo Komarov was shown when he was chosen to play with Barzal in Lee’s absence last season.

And it is the same reason why Oliver Wahlstrom has yet to get the same opportunity.

Trotz has picked on Wahlstrom’s game more often than any other player this season. Even after solid performances, Trotz made sure to get a word or two in on what he did wrong.

It’s always been about consistency for Wahlstrom. The 21-year old sniper seemed to be finding a groove in late December, as he focused more on other aspects of his game than just his shot.

But since a short stint on the NHL’s COVID List, Wahlstrom has reverted to his old ways.

The New York Islanders lack of offense and the limited minutes for Wahlstrom seem to be what the fans struggled to understand the most, and with good reason. Defense is so important, and Trotz may have been focusing on Wahlstrom’s development over what may have been the right thing for the team.

Also, Trotz has surrounded Wahlstrom with two veterans in Zach Parise and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, a line that has played pretty well as of late and the only line that was not touched on Wednesday.

Before Trotz’s time on the island, he was the bench boss in Washington.

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was an elite forward who struggled defensively and over Trotz’s four years there, he was able to help Ovechkin become a two-way player, and the Capitals eventually won the Stanley Cup.

What’s happening here on the island is the same thing, except Wahlstrom is a significantly younger project. Trotz had joined forces with Ovechkin when he was 29-years old.

Wahlstrom is eight years younger, allowing Trotz to develop Wahlstrom early for him to be the player he wants and the player the Islanders need for the future.

I get the argument. Trotz has tried everyone but Wahlstrom.

It leads back to the struggles defensively, mistakes with the puck, which has shown Trotz that Wahlstrom is not ready for that responsibility just yet.

If you look at the players who have been given a chance alongside Barzal this season over Wahlstrom, Josh Bailey, Kyle Palmieri, Zach Parise, and Austin Czarnik, the defensive reputation or trust with the puck is relatively high.

And yes, it seems that the speed of the NHL game has caught up to Bailey, the longest-tenured Islander, but Trotz still trusts him.

Kieffer Bellows got an opportunity on the top line too, right?

Yes, he did, and that decision did not pan out in the slightest, as Bellows was not ready.

With Palmieri expected to rejoin the Islanders for their contest Friday against Edmonton, the lineup will change if he gets back in there.

Given the world-class players on the other side, in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, we could very well see Clutterbuck back on the fourth line, a line that will be tasked with shutting one, if not both of these two forwards down.

But even with the top-line spot potentially open again, it will more likely go to Kyle Palmieri or Josh Bailey, as Wahlstrom still needs to show more.


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