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Who’s Responsible For Oliver Wahlstrom’s Lack of Consistency?

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Oliver Wahlstrom

When the New York Islanders took on the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, they did so without their leading shot getter in Oliver Wahlstrom. After showcasing a lack of consistency, New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz elected to scratch Wahlstrom and substitute in Kieffer Bellows in his place.

On Friday night, Trotz benched Oliver Wahlstrom in the third period of a 4-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes.

“He (Wahlstrom) is a big piece of what we do and our future, but the consistency has been all over the map for me and that’s where I’m trying to reel it in with him and a couple of guys,” Trotz said following Saturday’s loss. “Being a really good pro, and I think Wally is going to be a really good pro, is the consistency level every night.”

“And I just thought he wasn’t where he should be the other night, and (I) gave a chance to someone else.”

And Trotz is not wrong with his assessment. But with the Islanders in need of offense, especially in a game against an offensive Toronto Maple Leafs squad, was the move to scratch Wahlstrom one that put the Islanders in a better position to win?

Who am I to say? Trotz knows his group and is one of the most talented coaches in the NHL when getting players to play the “right way.”

But that does not mean decisions by coaches are beyond reproach.

Oliver Wahlstrom’s Individual Performance

Despite leading the New York Islanders in shots (85) and ranking third in goals (8), Oliver Wahlstrom has not been the consistent threat the Islanders have needed. 

In 31 games this season, Wahlstrom has put together two streaks of 10 games without a goal, the first from Nov. 6 through Dec. 2, failing to see Wahlstrom record a single point. 

Wahlstrom was called out by Trotz back on Dec. 7 and responded quite well in the games that followed. The goals were not there, but the assists were as Wahlstrom picked up seven assists in six games and played more of the two-way game that Trotz demanded.

But it seemed that the Islanders COVID-19 hiatus from Dec. 19 to Dec. 30, along with Wahlstrom missing two games due to not being ready following a COVID-19 protocol stint, that he lost his form.

In his last five games, in which the Islanders have gone 4-1-0, Oliver Wahlstrom has been a non-factor. He has just one assist, with a combined 20 shots on goal with seven in the losing effort to the Washington Capitals back on Jan. 15.

With Wahlstrom on the ice over the last five games (even strength), the Islanders have been out-chanced 31-24 and have allowed 11 high-danger scoring chances to their nine.

While those statistics are not just on Wahlstrom, he plays a part in the results. 

Whenever Oliver Wahlstrom does get back in the lineup, he needs to be a consistent threat. That does not mean he has to score every game or be the leading offensive player, but he needs to be noticeable at a higher rate than we have seen lately. 

Trotz Allowing Wahlstrom Enough Time to Make Impact?

There’s no denying it, and Trotz has never denied the difference in the way he coaches younger players and veterans. He said veterans have longer ropes and that the youngsters have to earn that. Those words came after Kieffer Bellows scored a big goal against the Vegas Golden Knights back on Dec. 19.

But the accountability for Wahlstrom’s struggles with consistency falls on Trotz’s shoulders as well.

If we break down Wahlstrom’s play per sixty minutes, he ranks third on the Islanders with 1.17 goals, fourth with 1.17 assists, and leads the Islanders with 12.43 shots.

Not to mention, he has the fourth-fewest giveaways per sixty minutes (1.17).

Despite these statistics, Wahlstrom’s TOI at even strength this season puts him ninth. Brock Nelson, who has played in six fewer games, has played over 14 minutes more than Wahlstrom. Kyle Palmieri, who has played in six fewer games also, has played just one minute less than Wahlstrom.

In 31 games, Wahlstrom has only surpassed 14 minutes a total of 10 times and has played under 12 minutes nine times.

The reasoning for his lack of minutes falls more on his third-line role than anything else. Jean-Gabriel Pageau gets extra shifts as a center, while Parise has been given more of a sporadic role up and down the lineup.

Wahlstrom played just one game as a member of the second line this season, but that was short-lived. Fringe NHLer Austin Czarnik got a chance alongside Barzal and Kieffer Bellows, while Wahlstrom still waits for that opportunity.

What’s Next For Oliver Wahlstrom?

No matter the reason for Wahlstrom’s inconsistencies this season, the Islanders are in dire need of someone who shoots the puck.

There’s no question that Wahlstrom has the talent to be a legitimate top-line forward in the NHL. And at 21, there is still plenty of time for him to grow.

The more Wahlstrom has played, the more comfortable he looks and although a wake-up call by Trotz was warranted, it could very well be that the key to Wahlstrom getting out of the rut he is in, is by letting him figure out through playing.

Although Wahlstrom is more of a regular than Bellows or Czarnik,  there is a competition in minutes between the three. And that competition is about to heat up with veteran Kyle Palmieri’s return on the horizon.

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