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Barzal’s Wing: How Did Oliver Wahlstrom Get There?

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Oliver Wahlstrom, New York Islanders

The New York Islanders find themselves on a three-game slide, and the schedule is not getting easier as the New York Rangers are in town Wednesday, followed by matchups against the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche.

As we have seen during this skid, New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert has changed up his lines often to try to spark his team. None of the moves so far have panned out.

The latest move in the lineup is one that fans have been longing for quite some time. Young sniper Oliver Wahlstrom skated alongside Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey at Tuesday’s practice.

The focus is on the Barzal-Wahlstrom duo. If this move brings about consistent success, you could be looking at a combination that lasts for as long as Barzal remains a New York Islander–which right now is nine more seasons–at least.

Despite how the Islanders have come out of the gate this season (2-4-0), Oliver Wahlstrom has been one of the few bright spots.

Through five games, Wahlstrom has three goals and an assist, with just two turnovers, both occurring in Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers. He has shot the puck 19 times, shooting at a 16.7 percent clip. He’s blocked a shot and has laid the body nine times, with just two penalties.

What started as a third-line role, quickly turned into a second-line role, with him going back and forth between the two.

Most of Wahlstrom’s minutes have come alongside Lee and Nelson, with 18.3 minutes played as a line, resulting in two of Wahlstrom’s three goals. Both goals came in the Islanders’ 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks, game three of the regular season.

His remaining 11.7 minutes have come alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Kyle Palmieri. In game two of the regular season, Wahlstrom scored a beautiful breakaway move against goaltender John Gibson in the Islanders’ 7-1 demolition of the Anaheim Ducks.

Now, as it appears, Oliver Wahlstrom will skate alongside Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey when the New York Islanders host the New York Rangers on Wednesday.

A promotion to the top line is not a promotion that just happens. It’s something that Wahlstrom has had to earn

“He’s played well. He’s done a good job on the walls, getting pucks out. We talked about his limited turnovers. As long as you do certain things right, things will take care of themselves,” Lambert said. “When you’re playing in a role, higher up in the lineup, you’re playing against other team’s top players as well. So, turnovers are important.”

“He’s done a really good job of managing the puck this year.”

As mentioned, Wahlstrom only has two turnovers on the season. Alongside a player like Mathew Barzal, who is susceptible to turning th puck over (six), being quick with your decision-making is critical to success.

We all know Wahlstrom to be a shooter, but Barzal wants him to do more than just let the puck go if they are together.

“I want him to play hockey. If the shot’s there, the shot’s there. If not, I want him to make a play,” Mat BarzaI said. “I don’t want him to limit himself to just being a shooter. I want him to just play hockey, play free.” 

“So yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”

As for what Barzal has noticed from Wahlstrom this season: “He’s had some really good games this year. He’s been skating well, and he’s at his best when he’s fore-checking, playing rough.”

Veteran centerman Brock Nelson shared what he had seen from Wahlstrom’s game this season compared to last year.

“He’s skating. He’s hounded it, and obviously, his shot kind of speaks for itself,” Brock Nelson said. “He’s able to get that off in no time and space, so it’s impressive, and you want to get him looks, and he’s able to kind of generate.”

“He’s been creating for himself.”

On the season, per Natural Statrick, Wahlstrom has created 15 individual scoring chances at 5 on 5, which leads the New York Islanders. And remember, Wahlstrom has played in one less game than most.

In an exclusive interview with NYI Hockey Now following Tuesday’s practice, Oliver Wahlstrom spoke on his mindset on being promoted to Barzal’s wing and how he’s felt he has played up to this point.

“I just need to focus on playing the right way. In the past, sometimes, I get away from the game a little bit. Just staying poised and confident and not getting away from the little things,” Wahlstrom said. “I noticed when I do little things, I might not score the first four or five games, but you know, chances come, and the puck will eventually go in.”

As mentioned before, Wahlstrom has not played mistake-free hockey as he continues to learn the NHL game and make the necessary adjustments to the new system in place.

“Things are going to happen in the game. It’s a quick game out there, and yeah, obviously, last year was tough, but that’s last year. And you know, I made a mistake last game, and you know, Lane came up to me and talked to me about it, and I knew, you know, I messed up a little bit, and we moved on. It wasn’t, you know, too much drama after that. I understood what my task was, and I went back out and kept playing. 

Last season, Barry Trotz benched Oliver Wahlstrom when he made mistakes. Lambert has taken a new approach this season, which has undoubtedly paid off as Wahlstrom continues to grow.

Wahlstrom and Barzal have played with one another, getting a handful of games last season. But despite some success, it was not consistent enough for Trotz’s liking.

A season later, Oliver Wahlstrom’s growth and understanding have allowed him this opportunity. The question is, will there be a different result?

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