By Christian Arnold and Stefen Rosner
The New York Islanders have yet to announce any deals officially, but unofficially their roster is taking shape. Zach Parise, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac are all rumored to have new deals in the works, but the Islanders still need to fill the gap left by Jordan Eberle on the top line.
If Palmieri is indeed brought back then the logical choice would be for him to assume the top-line winger slot, barring any trades or other additions. However, could the opening be the perfect chance to give Oliver Wahlstrom a shot on the wing with Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee?
Wahlstrom certainly turned heads this past season with his play on the ice. The rookie forward had 12 goals and 21 points in 44 games with the Islanders during the regular season and he had another goal and three points in the postseason before an injury cut that short.
The 21-year-old has shown he can play at the NHL level and his sniping ability could prove useful alongside Barzal and Lee. NYI Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief Christian Arnold and Stefen Rosner debated the idea, with Rosner taking the pro side and Arnold taking the dissenting opinion:
Rosner: Over the last two seasons, Oliver Wahlstrom has shown a goal-scoring potential that the island has not seen in quite some time. All the talk the last handful of years, through the John Tavares era and the current Mat Barzal era has been about bringing in wingers that can finish off chances in which they create. Wahlstrom, alongside Barzal, could be a tandem that gets the Islanders over the hump.
With Anders Lee back and healthy, this is the time to see how the 21-year old can fit into the top line. The game plan should be simple. Barzal will use his skating ability and vision to get the puck to Wahlstrom. Once the puck is on his stick, there is a likely chance a shot is coming. With Wahlstrom’s accuracy and strength, rebounds are sure to be created. And then Lee will be the big-body presence that buries that loose puck.
Obviously what works on paper is not guaranteed to work on the ice. Wahlstrom’s shooting percentage was 12.8%, and he averaged 2.14 shots per game. These statistics all came while playing on the third line, alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau. now is the time to try Wahlstrom out on that top line. It could end up not just helping the Islanders offense immensely, but may also save the Islanders from needing to give up assets to acquire a top-six forward.
Arnold: Oliver Wahlstrom had a phenomenal year for the Islanders without a doubt, but putting the 21-year-old in such a critical position before he is ready would be a mistake. Right now he is coming off an injury and Barry Trotz opted to keep his lineup intact during the playoffs rather than put Wahlstrom back in after he was healthy enough to play in the Second Round and Stanley Cup Semifinals. That’s not to say the young forward doesn’t deserve a shot in the future, but right now the Islanders and Wahlstrom would be better off letting him develop with Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Kyle Palmieri proved he could play well when given the chance to play on the Isles’ top line in the few instances he was given by Trotz last season. That should be utilized again by the Islanders, who saw Palmieri turn into an offensive juggernaut during the playoffs. The veteran winger scored seven goals and had nine points in 19 postseason contests and given the opportunity on the top line that production could be seen again during the regular season this year.
Wahlstrom’s development would benefit too from continuing to grow as a player under the tutelage of Pageau. The two developed a nice rapport last season and that would only continue to grow this year. Not to mention the fact that Zach Parise would likely find himself on that line as well should his signing ever be announced. Between Pageau and Parise, that is experience that will only aid Wahlstrom from when he is ready to move up in the lineup.
Then again, this could all be for nothing if the Islanders make a trade for say a Vladimir Tarasenko.