Islanders: What Oliver Wahlstrom’s coach sees from him so far

Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

New York Islanders prospect Oliver Wahlstrom is out on loan with Swedish Allsvenskan side AIK, here’s what his head coach has seen from him so far.

Oliver Wahlstrom has started life on loan with AIK well with four points through his first six games. The New York Islanders first-round pick and eleventh overall selection from 2018 is out on loan with Allsvenskan side AIK as he prepares for the 2020-21 NHL season where he hopes to make the Islanders squad.

We recently heard from Wahlstrom himself. The Athletic’s Arthur Staple spoke to the young forward (subscription required) about his first year of pro-hockey, what he did before the loan to AIK, and what he needs to learn going forward. It’s an excellent piece and I suggest you read it if you haven’t already.

Recently I reached out to AIK’s head coach Hakan Ahlund to talk about Wahlstrom. I wanted to know from the head coach himself how Oliver Wahlstrom is doing and what he’s seen so far.

Still Needs Work on Defense

With four points in six games, Wahlstrom has been as advertised upfront. He’s a productive player for AIK, just as coach Ahlund had expected Wahlstrom would be.

He has had an OK start to the season and could have scored even more if he had been more successful around the goal.  I see him as a productive player, such as he has shown during the first games.

Coach Ahlund’s comments about being more successful around the goal fits with what Wahlstrom told Arthur Staple the other day about having that power-forward mentality. While Wahlstrom was speaking in the sense of being a more impactful player away from the puck, one of the key elements of a power forward is their ability to score around the goal. Adding that element to his game would make him an even more productive forward.

But, frankly, Wahlstrom’s offensive abilities were never a worry. It’s clear he’s a skilled goal-scorer. That’s why he was drafted eleventh overall in 2018. The one big thing missing from Wahlstrom’s game was his play off the puck.

When he was sent back to the AHL after his nine-game stint with the Islanders we heard Barry Trotz indicate that Wahlstrom needed to work on his team game.

Specifically, Wahlstrom needed to be better away from the puck. Something the young man speaks about with Arthur Staple. Wahlstrom knows that to be successful in the NHL he’s got to find a way to chip in even when the puck isn’t on his stick.

And coach Ahlund said the same thing when I asked him about Wahlstrom’s game away from the puck with AIK:

The biggest area Oliver can improve is his defensive skills, and to be more involved in the defense.

Now that doesn’t me he can’t or will never learn to play defense. It means that he’s still working on it. It’s been just over a year since Barry Trotz gave Wahlstrom his report card, to think he would have completely changed his game in that span would be ridiculous.

The defensive side of the game will likely always be an issue for Oliver Wahlstrom. And that’s OK. I can distinctly remember a story that Mike Bossy shares about an interaction he had with Al Arbour when he told the Hall of Fame coach told Bossy he wasn’t brought in to play defense.

It’s going to take time for Wahlstrom to be a better defensive player. Something he himself told Staple just the other day. Players are constantly learning and getting better. Mathew Barzal is still learning the defensive side of the game and he’s been playing a starring role for the Islanders over the last three years.

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We’ll see if Wahlstrom has improved his defensive play enough when training camp opens for the 2020-21 NHL season. Until then, he’s still learning and improving.

Note: As I was writing this story word came out in Sweden that Wahlstrom went into the boards hard and left for the AIK dressing room injured. Hopefully, he’s ok and it’s nothing serious.