Sunday’s win over the Pittsburgh Penguins should have New York Islanders fans over the moon. No, not because of the fact that the Islanders finally managed to hold a third-period lead against Pittsburgh, but rather because of the players that led the way in the victory.
If anything it was a look at what could be in store for the Islanders thanks to the crop of young players that have stepped up this season.
Oliver Wahlstrom has become the offensive leader the Islanders have been looking for, and on Sunday it was no different. The 20-year-old had his first multi-point game in the NHL with a power-play goal and a secondary assist on Jean-Gabriell Pageau’s goal on the man-advantage in the second period.
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) February 28, 2021
Noah Dobson had another strong effort in the win on both sides of the puck, which included assisting on one of the most crucial stops of the night late in the second period. In addition, his three shots on goal in 14:16 of work were second among all skaters on Sunday night.
And who could forget about the game Ilya Sorokin had. He became just the eighth goaltender in NHL history to record back-to-back shutouts in his first two wins of his career. The Russian netminder had 20 stops on a rather slow night in net, but he still managed to stay sharp when he needed to.
The Idea of Wahlstrom, Dobson and Sorokin playing a vital role in a New York Islanders win is one that should be sending Islanders fans jumping for joy. All three have been highly touted and were expected to be big parts of the Islanders’ future going forward, but they’ve quickly become impact players here and now.
underrated stop by Sorokin on the wraparound pic.twitter.com/wCKyx4ZtfZ
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) February 28, 2021
Now 21 games into the season, what’s become abundantly clear has been the fact that the Islanders’ strategy to ease in players like Wahlstrom, Dobson, and to a certain extent Sorokin, has paid dividends on the ice. While fans and media sites — including this one — called for the likes of Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows to get into the lineup sooner, the slow approach has proven to be the right one.
“This is what I learned from my time in the National Hockey League,” New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz explained to NYI Hockey Now after the game. “The great players in this league, they can come in the league and they can be contributing players and have great careers. We just saw one of the greatest players to play the game tonight in the opposition in Sidney Crosby. He didn’t need time in the minors. The rest of us mortals, you have to spend some time.”
The Stanley Cup-winning coach said that he’s seen plenty of players that had come with a lot of expectations get humbled by the grind of the NHL.
“I’ve seen teams put players right on the top of the pedestal, top rung, and they can’t get it done,” Trotz said. “And the only place to go from there is down. I’d rather have a player on a lower rung and work his way up because you can go to the next level. You can build your game and sometimes as an organization you can do a disservice to players, and it all depends on the player.”
The steady pace the Islanders waited to get Wahlstrom into the lineup has certainly shown that Trotz’s philosophy is working. After waiting until late January to get Wahlstrom into the lineup, the forward has only gotten better since first stepping onto the ice this season.
If nothing else, his current four-game point streak points to that being true.
“It’s helped a lot,” Wahlstrom said about being eased into the lineup this year. “I just keep learning. Obviously, last year was pretty eye-opening to me. I learned what I could do and what I couldn’t do without the puck. I’m just really enjoying it right now and enjoying the process.”
As for the big picture, what should be the most exciting aspect of the New York Islanders recent youth infusion is that if the trend continues it means that their window of opportunity to win grows larger. The Islanders have been described as a win-now team the way the rosters has been constructed.
Barry Trotz talks about player development in the NHL:
"The rest of us mortals, you have to spend some time. This is a man's league" pic.twitter.com/ARnr7hD1q9
— Islanders Videos (@SNY_Islanders) March 1, 2021
However, when you assess the makeup of the lineup it has a lot more youth in it than at first pass. Outside of Wahlstrom, Dobson and Sorokin, the Islanders already had several key contributors that were on the younger end of the spectrum.
Mathew Barzal is quick to come to mind, and at 23 he has been the Islanders best player on a nightly basis. While Anthony Beauvillier has struggled early this year, his game has started to turn a corner since returning from injury, and Michael Dal Colle has been going through a bit of a renaissance this season.
“All of a sudden we were an old team to adding five or six young guys,” Trots said. “That’s what you have to do in the salary cap era. You have to develop players, they have to play for you, but they have to produce for you. They just can’t be in the lineup and take up minutes. We’re starting to get production from our young guys and that’s great for the organization.”
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