There might not be a breakout candidate their team needs to break out more than Oliver Wahlstrom and the New York Islanders. The same can be said for the player himself as there is the feeling that this season is shaping up as a make-or-break season for the 22-year-old sniper after a season that was at best a step sideways with diminishing ice-time and missed opportunities.
On Monday, ESPN's Greg Wyshynski released a list of 25 breakout candidates across three different tiers for the 2022-23 season. Wahlstrom falls into Tier 2; players could thrive with new line-mates; or, in one case, a new coach. The new coach scenario, of course, is Lane Lambert behind the bench, replacing Barry Trotz.
The relationship between Trotz and younger players was a constant subject of conversation amongst the fanbase last year and in previous seasons. While Wahlstrom isn't the only player with the Isles or other Trotz-led teams to go through "tough love," it was at the forefront most of the year due to the team's place in the standings and continued offensive futility.
"Lane Lambert takes over for Barry Trotz as Islanders head coach after serving as Trotz's assistant coach for the past decade. How he'll differ from Trotz is a bit of a mystery, and no one is more curious about the differences than Wahlstrom. The 22-year-old forward is entering his third season as an NHL regular. While Trotz gave him some power-play time in his 73 games, he averaged just 10:35 per game at even strength. Will Lambert bump him up the depth chart"- Greg Wyshynski, ESPN
The 2018 Islanders first-round pick has played 126 games across three seasons with mixed results. After 12 goals in 44 games in 2021, he finished last season with 13, a new career-high, but only three goals came in the final 38 games. Over the last 10 games, he played under 10:00 TOI five times.
He's still young, and patience should be recommended if not required, but so should be signs of progress in the areas emphasized by the coaching staff. Last year, his ice-time was just over 12 minutes a game as he struggled to gain the trust of Trotz as a dependable two-way player that can be trusted to make repeatable good decisions with and without the puck.
Despite all of that, Trotz did give fans their wish and paired Wahlstrom with Mathew Barzal in March, but the pair failed to connect in the way many had hoped. However, the lack of an addition to the forward group this off-season means that Lambert still has to find consistent line-mates for his flashy center, and Wahlstrom could get another shot at showing that he can be trusted with top-line minutes and consistent power-play time.
If Wahlstrom can mesh with Barzal, a breakout season of 20 goals or more would be a safe bet. If not, he'll have to prove himself likely on a line centered by JG Pageau and make the most of his power-play opportunities where the team will work to set up his top-grade one-timer from the left circle.
The theme heading into the season will be the Islanders veterans needing to return to their career-form, but Wahlstrom is among the smaller group of players that needs to prove what they can do at the NHL level to earn more playing time and put up numbers many feel he is capable of producing.