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Rosner: Holmstrom Honing His Defensive Game, Why Lack of Offense is Not a Concern

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New York Islanders forward Simon Holmstrom (Courtesy of New York Islanders Twitter)
New York Islanders forward Simon Holmstrom (Courtesy of New York Islanders Twitter)

New York Islanders’ 21-year-old forward Simon Holmstrom may have just one point through his first six games and two total shots, but the former 23rd overall pick in 2019 has put on a clinic on the defensive side of the puck and his lack of offense is not a concern at this time.

Through 66:54 minutes on the ice, Simon Holmstrom has yet to turn the puck over, with three takeaways. Although his long reach was something that many thought would benefit him on the offensive side of the puck, in terms of cutting to the outside, his active stick and reach has led to his effective defensive display.

Initially skating with Mathew Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom, earning his first NHL assist (secondary) on Wahlstrom’s goal gainst the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert has elected to play him alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Zach Parise, while Kyle Palmieri continues to recover from an upper-body injury.

In 15:30 minutes as a line, they have outscored their opponents 1-0, with just a 0.1 Expected Goals Against per Money Puck.

READ MORE: Is Blackhawks Star Patrick Kane on the Islanders Radar?

In the Islanders’ 3-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night, Holmstrom notched his first two career NHL shots after hitting the post against the Nashville Predators in the 4-1 loss on Friday night.

He had a few chances to score Sunday, but netminder Arvid Soderblom stood tall. On the defensive side of the puck, Holmstrom and his line took on the Blackhawks best and helped shut the door.

“He’s a responsible guy,” Lambert said following the win. “Obviously, they were matched up quite a bit tonight against Kane and Toews, and he’s a guy, even though he’s a young player, he’s very trustworthy in that aspect.”

That line for the Blackhawks (Andreas Athanasiou-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane) was held to just four shots on goal and was on the ice for Zach Parise’s deflection, which gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead in the second.

Per Natural Stat Trick, Holmstrom ranks first amongst forwards who have played 50-plus minutes with a 1.27 Expected Goals Against when he is on the ice (at five-on-five).

“I’ve said it since camp last year, how good of a player he is and how good of a player he’s going to be, but he puts himself in good positions to get the puck, and he makes good plays with it,” linemate Zach Parise told NYI Hockey Now. “And he could have had a couple of goals tonight, and he’ll get them soon. The opportunities are there.”

“But just a really good all-around game from him. He plays on both sides of the puck, and so it fits in really well with us.”

Despite how strong Holmstrom has been defensively, he believes he can be an offensive player in the NHL.

“I want to create more offense. I think that’s the biggest thing right now,” Holmstrom said. “I feel like I’m doing a good job with the positioning and all that. So I want to get [the offense] going because I think that’s my strongest point.”

“I just want to get strong on the puck, protect it more, and set up set up some more plays.”

NYI Hockey Now asked Lambert following Saturday’s practice if there had been any concern for the lack of offense by Holmstrom.

“I like what he’s doing. I like a lot about what he’s doing,” Lambert said. “Obviously, we’d like to get a few more shots on goal, there’s no question about it, but he’s had some good opportunities.”

“‘lt’ll come for him.”

Does Lambert view Holmstrom as a goal scorer at the NHL level?

“I look at him as a two-way player who can contribute to the offense. He can certainly score.”

In 153 career AHL games with the Bridgeport Islanders, Simon Holmstrom had 27 goals with 43 assists (70 points).

Year after year, prospects with impeccable offensive skill break into the NHL, but their success is short-lived given their inability to be consistent offensive weapons. It doesn’t help that most young players also struggle to play a responsible two-way game.

Most recently, on the Islanders’ side of things, Kieffer Bellows was a one-dimensional offensive player.

As much as he improved away from the puck, his inconsistent play is why he is currently no longer playing in the NHL, as he is a member of the Philadelphia Flyers AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Even Oliver Wahlstrom struggled mightily with that last season and early this season but recently has looked like a different player, using his defensive play to help garner offensive opportunities.

Simon Holmstrom entering the NHL as a responsible forward will do wonders for him as he grows into an everyday NHL player, espcially in the New York Islanders’ system.

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