It was exactly one year ago when New York Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom limped off the ice at UBS Arena with an injury that would end his 2022-23 season. Wahlstrom left the Islander's 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins shortly after delivering a big hit on defenseman Chad Ruhwedel.
Wahlstrom had seven goals and nine assists in 35 games, a solid, if not spectacular, start to what was supposed to be a pivotal season in his career development. Instead, the season-ending knee injury has proven to be a sizeable setback in his Isles tenure, as he struggles to find his confidence and consistent ice time this season amongst a deeper Isles forward group.
Before the start of the season, Wahlstrom maintained a positive outlook following the injury he called a "blessing," that allowed him to take a step back and get a fresh perspective on his game and what he needed to be successful at the NHL level. However, it has yet to translate to production on the ice as he has just two goals and three assists in 18 games and most recently has been a healthy scratch as head coach Lane Lambert has elected to play Julien Gauthier and Hudson Fasching over the 2018 first round pick (11th overall).
At Wednesday's morning skate, Wahlstrom was skating alongside JG Pageau and Simon Holmstrom, meaning Lambert is giving him a start on the one-year anniversary of his injury.
Considering the Islanders are also keeping the door open for a potential Zach Parise return, it's understandable why Wahlstrom, who signed a one-year qualifying offer this summer, would once again be discussed as a player that may be a trade candidate and in need of a change of scenery.
“I don’t understand the zeroing in on somebody not playing or how difficult it is because this is professional hockey. It’s the same in every sport, no matter what it is. And it’s unfortunate sometimes when you get injured if somebody does well, it’s very difficult for the coach to take them out, said GM Lou Lamoriello last week in the New York Post.
"In my mind, Oliver’s handled it very well. He’s matured tremendously over the past couple years. And yes, he’s worked his tail off to get back. It’s really up to him to do the things he’s capable of doing.”
It's clear the Islanders are pleased with what they saw from Wahlstrom as he rehabbed and put himself in the physical shape necessary to start the season with the team. However, they can't solve for the problem that he needs to show more than what he has thus far this season and as his opportunities become more limited, it has become more difficult for him to string together games that help build his confidence.
Throughout his career, the 23-year-old has had flashes in games that make you wonder whether it would become a catalyst for a more sustainable stretch of production. This year, it was his shootout goal versus Calgary that snapped a seven-game winless streak that you thought could serve as that building block, but it failed to create the missing momentum.
It's unclear under which circumstances Wahlstrom regains a regular spot in the forward rotation with the team playing as well as it is offensively and if he would be able to make the most of another opportunity if given the chance.