New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz expressed no regrets over keeping talented rookie Oliver Wahlstrom up in the press box instead of on the ice during the Islanders’ run to the Stanley Cup Semifinals. Wahlstrom had played in the first five games of the First Round before he was hurt in Game 5 and then never got back into the lineup even when he was healthy.
The Islanders made it through the Second Round as the team’s offense continued to find ways to score, but against Tampa Bay, it looked as though Wahlstrom’s services could have been utilized.
“No, I have not. I don’t question any of my decisions,” Trotz responded to a reporter’s question when asked he regretted not playing Wahlstrom. “If you could sit in the coach’s room and know the injuries and all the possibilities, it’s easy to play fantasy hockey when you don’t have all the information sometimes. That’s part of the business. I wouldn’t because we lost 1-0 on a shorthanded goal.
“To be able to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning we were going to be able to turn it into a track meet. Go end to end and try to outscore them. … We have to defend and we had some people as you’ll find out eventually, guys were banged up and hurt so you had to cover all your bases.”
“The future looks bright that way because we are becoming a constant threat & that's all you can ask for in this league. Our end goal is to win a Stanley Cup. That won’t change, but you have to be consistent at it & we’re making strides that way.”
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) June 27, 2021
That’s all well and good, but that raises the question of what does that mean for Oliver Wahlstrom next year?
The Islanders rookie certainly made an impact when he had been on the ice during the First Round of the playoffs for the Islanders. Wahlstrom had a goal and two assists through five playoff games and was a plus-2 in that same span, and that’s all without mentioning his knack for putting the puck on net.
That was a big thing for the rooking during the regular season as well. He registered 94 shots on goal in 44 games with the Islanders and scored nine goals and 21 points while averaging 12:23 of ice time.
“It was a pretty big learning year,” Wahlstrom said. “I thought my game evolved a little bit as the year went on and it’s really exciting to play a little more consistent in this league. I got to go through camp next year and go from there. We’ll see, I’m excited.”
Wahlstrom will see an increased role when the team hits the ice next season, where that will be though is somewhat up for debate. The Islanders face another chaotic offseason financially as Lou Lamoriello’s status as general manager of the year is put to the test.
The Islanders have five unrestricted free agents to deal with — headlined by Casey Cizkas — as well as four restricted free agents that will need to be dealt with. Add to that the possibility of losing someone in their forward group to the expansion draft.
That leaves plenty of room for Wahlstrom to slot in. The first option would be putting him back on the win of Jean-Gabriel Pageau on the third line where he found plenty of success last season. Pageau and Wahlstrom developed chemistry during their time together and the veteran could prove to be a good mentor for Wahlstrom in his second NHL season.
There is the chance that Wahlstrom could find himself in a top-six role as well, depending on the camp he has and what shakes out with the expansion draft. Both Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle have been names mentioned as players that could find themselves unprotected in the expansion draft and if one is taken, that would leave a big hole in the Islanders top-six forwards group.
If the kid is ready it would seem like a natural fit.
The offseason and training camp will dictate where Wahlstrom finds himself in the lineup next year, but the soon-to-be second-year NHLer will be in a more prominent role next season.