2. Oliver Wahlstrom’s Impact Continues to be Felt
Ilya Sorokin was the Islanders’ best player Monday, and there’s no way to honestly spin the tale of that game without acknowledging it. But, if you were trying to make a case for the second-best Islander, you could do a lot worse than Oliver Wahlstrom’s performance.
After a slow first ten appearances of the 2020-21 season which saw him trying to adapt to the speed of the NHL game, Wahlstrom has come into his own in a big way for the Islanders. He’s become a mainstay in the lineup anchored alongside J.G. Pageau on the Islanders’ increasingly well-performing third line, and he’s got the numbers to show for it.
Wahlstrom, never afraid to use his killer shot, launched six attempts toward the net on Monday, with three of those coming from the inner slot. He finished with the highest Individual Expected Goals total of any Islander skater at 5v5, and was the one to bury the game-tying goal that forced overtime.
Like with the goalie position, the Islanders have been waiting for a true goal-scorer to grace their prospect system for a long time now. Wahlstrom, it appears, is that long-awaited sniper. While his Monday goal was just about scooping up a loose puck in the crease and punching it home, the 20-year-old winger’s shot has mesmerized this season.
There’s probably no other player on this Islanders team who I’d rather see get the puck on his stick with an open look right now than Oliver Wahlstrom. His shot is that dangerous, and he’s been that light’s out when it comes to burying his scoring chances.
Michel Anderson opined on why Wahlstrom deserves some consideration for this season’s Calder Trophy recently, and yeah, he’s absolutely right. Wahlstrom does deserve consideration if he can continue scoring at this pace.
It’s been said a lot, but Wahlstrom represents another missing piece that the Islanders have lacked for many years now, and that’s a dangerous shooter. In my last three takeaways, I mentioned he’s the most-exciting Islanders rookie since Mat Barzal, but from a strictly shooting, goal scorer’s perspective, he’s more exciting.
If there’s one area I’d like to see Wahlstrom improve upon moving forward, it’d be his skating. He’s not a bad skater per se, but his 5v5 game would be well served by adding a more explosive first few strides. That, fortunately, is something that can be worked on, especially as a 20-year-old.
Former world champion figure skater Barbara Underhill has transformed average to below-average draft-eligible skaters into some of the NHL’s best. Just look at the improvement to Lightning center Brayden Point’s skating since he worked with her. Adding that extra layer to Wahlstrom’s game would make him a nightmarish force to cover at 5v5, and I’m all here for it.