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Trotz Honest on Wahlstrom’s Play, Understanding Expectations



New York Islanders Oliver Wahlstrom

Update: Oliver Wahlstrom was benched in the 5-4 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, as he did not touch the ice following his final shift of the second period (3:55-2:09). After the game, head coach Barry Trotz said that Wahlstrom not getting any shift in the third period was performance-based.

“Just got to be better,” Trotz said.  “I’m not going to give you any details.”

Wahlstrom ended his night with 8:27 minutes played, was a -1, with 2 PIM and a giveaway.

When I asked Trotz about Zach Parise, who scored twice in the win, Trotz spoke on what makes Parise successful. “I hate cherry pickers. I really do. In this league, I think that you got to play both sides of the puck. You can’t cheat in areas where you you’ve got to move, your teammates got to rely on you. So he plays the right way.”

Although that was an answer about Parise, could it have been directed towards someone else?

I’ll leave that answer up to you.

Trotz Honest on Wahlstrom’s Play, Understanding Expectations

“He’s got lots of talent. Don’t be impatient. He’s gonna be good. He’s gonna be fine. You guys are like McDonald’s. You guys want everything like right now,” New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said following a Mar. 5 win over the St. Louis Blues.

The player Trotz was speaking about over a month ago was 21-year old forward Oliver Wahlstrom, who Trotz has been developing into a well-rounded NHLer rather than just letting Wahlstrom remain one-dimensional.

Anytime a franchise has a potential superstar, the fan base wants to see that elite play immediately. And when that player, off the bat or over the first few seasons, shows signs but does not fully show off that consistency, the fanbase’s belief in a player dwindles–especially under the bright New York lights.

After posting 12 goals and nine assists in 44 games during the 2020-21 season, the fan expectation for Oliver Wahlstrom heading into this season was rather high. The New York Islanders had not acquired or signed an elite forward to help bolster the offense during the offseason months, which meant they would need Wahlstrom to take a step in 2021-22.

In 65 games played this season, Oliver Wahlstrom has 13 goals and 11 assists. While that is a new career-high in points, he only has one more goal and two more assists than he did last season in 21 more games.

Wahlstrom has shot the puck more this season than last, with 151 shots (94 shots in 2020-21), ranking second on the New York Islanders behind Noah Dobson (173). His shooting percentage has dipped from last season to this season, as in 2020-21, Wahlstrom shot at a 12.8 percent clip.

This season, he’s at 8.61 percent.

The entire fan base had been waiting to see Oliver Wahlstrom get minutes alongside the New York Islanders star Mathew Barzal as it seemed like a duo that could be lethal for years to come.

It took until 17 games ago for the two to be paired together alongside Zach Parise, but the offensive production just has not been there for Wahlstrom. That line has scored six goals, with Wahlstrom scoring just twice.

As for Wahlstrom’s discipline, his trips to the penalty box have doubled this season compared to last season, with 56 PIM so far through 66 games, compared to his 21 in 44 games a season ago.

Some penalties are avoidable, but one like the one we saw on Saturday night against the St. Louis Blues where Wahlstrom closed his hand on the puck, are unacceptable, and as a third-year player, Wahlstrom needs to know better. That penalty capped off a rough night for no. 26.

“If you watch the St. Louis game, there were some poor reads by Wahlstrom in that game, and therefore it just put that whole line into a little bit of a spin cycle,” Trotz said. “There’s times when you have to understand that the systematic play has to trump your instincts. Wahlstrom’s an instinctive player…”

“Some players get a little paralyzed by that, especially young players. They go to swat and sort of melt ice a little bit as we say. I think he’s continued to adjust and continues to learn. Sometimes the choices are correct, and sometimes they’re not.”

In the game on Friday, a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, Wahlstrom played just 6:41 minutes, as his time has been limited.

If it was not for a player feeling under the weather Tuesday, all signs pointed to Oliver Wahlstrom being a healthy scratch Tuesday.

“He wasn’t really good last game, so he’s got to sort of rebuild that (trust) again,” Trotz said following Tuesday’s optional morning skate. “We’ll see. Give me the first shift, and if the first shift is good, then the second shift…we will just go shift by shift.”

Going shift by shift with 11 games to go in a lost season is not what a young player like Wahlstrom wants to hear, but it reiterates that minutes need to be earned at the NHL level, especially if Trotz is behind the bench.

New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has had a short leash with his 21-year old forward, as when mistakes are made, Trotz has had no problem cutting back his shifts. In a year in which Wahlstrom should have become more of a focal point of the offense, he has played just 12:32 minutes per game.

In 2020-21, Wahlstrom averaged 12:23 TOI.

The narrative by many on Wahlstrom is that he often makes mistakes with and without the puck, which negatively impacts his and his lines’ offensive output. While that may have been the case Saturday night and at times during the season, Wahlstrom is not the turnover machine that many believe that he is.

On the season, Wahlstrom has turned the puck over 18 times in 66 games. For comparison, Noah Dobson has turned the puck over 67 times, and Mathew Barzal has turned the puck over 69 times.

Wahlstrom’s TOI does not compare to the two players named above, and even if the ice time was similar, Wahlstrom is not a player who often has the puck on his stick. So take that stat with a grain of salt if you want, but it’s still worth mentioning.

Trotz spoke a few days ago about defenseman Noah Dobson learning from his mistakes, and look at him now. But not every player can just move on from mistakes at the rate that Dobson has.

“There’s some guys I think like Dobson who learn from it (their mistakes) and is able to go past it almost like a goalie. You let in a goal, you gotta go past it. “Some guys linger a little bit. I would say Wahlstrom lingers sometimes more than he needs to because he has a lot of ability. And I think he’s gonna be a pretty solid player.”

Trotz continued with his goalie comparison:

“But players are just like goalies. Some guys can get past it, and some guys just need a little longer. While he’s been pretty, pretty decent, you know, through the year, the ups and downs of a complete season, I mean, he hasn’t played a long season like this, maybe in his whole career, so there’s a growing process.”

Trotz has often spoken about that process. And like mentioned above, because of Wahlstrom’s talent, that “need” for him to reach his ceiling immediately clouds what it takes for a player to get there.

“I know you guys love Wally. But you just have to be patient,” Trotz said. “I’m more patient than you guys.”