3. Thursday Another Example of Wahlstrom’s Encouraging Growth
Oliver Wahlstrom continued impressing me on Thursday. At only 20-years-old, Wahlstrom has shown an ability to adapt his game to the NHL level, and he has done so while playing in one of the more rigidly-structured NHL systems, under a coach who expects effort and competence over all 200 feet of the rink.
It may sound odd to some of you, but I really get the feeling that a lot of hockey fans fail to comprehend just how difficult making the jump from juniors or college to the NHL is at 18, 19, or 20-years-old.
For every Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid, players who made a seamless and extremely impressive transition, there are many 18 or 19-year-old NHL rookies who struggle to find their footing.
Just look at Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko in 2019-20, or Tim Stützle (whose underlying metrics show a player struggling to drive 5v5 play on a poor Senators team) and Alexis Lafrenière this season (subscription required). All four are incredibly talented players. Yet, they’ve all had struggles in their 18 or 19-year-old rookie campaigns.
Wahlstrom, who is 20 and now in his draft-season-plus-two, is only just starting to find his footing at the NHL level, and that’s okay. Making the jump in a player’s draft year or draft-year-plus-one is incredibly difficult and can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on a teenager to live up to fans’ often lofty, many times unreasonable expectations.
What seems most important is Wahlstrom’s game is growing, and it’s happening before our eyes. He looks visibly more confident of late, he’s shown less hesitation to use his very good shot, and he has found some really good chemistry with J.G. Pageau.
His goal on Thursday wasn’t exactly one for the highlight reel, but the smile on his face after said it all. That goal mattered to him way more than it did to the outcome of the game. Whether that tally kicks off a hot streak or not, who can really say with any degree of certainty?
But, it’s encouraging if nothing else. He’s put a lot of shots toward the net lately, and for one to finally go in must be relieving to him. He finished with a team-high .63 ixG (individual expected goals) according to Moneypuck because of the three shot attempts he had from within the slot, and if he continues doing that he’s going to start finding the net more often.
Wahlstrom has been the best winger Pageau has had all season. At 20-years-old, and still, in the infancy of his NHL career, that is very impressive, even if it’s on an Islanders team that lacks winger depth in the middle of its lineup.
I wanted to get some thoughts in about certain Islanders who are outshooting their xG marks, and others who are having less luck in that department, but I guess I had more to say about Wahlstrom than I thought I did. So, I’ll have to do that another time. Keep an eye out for it. Enjoy your Friday, and let’s get ready for this weekend’s back-to-back vs. Pittsburgh.