Oliver Wahlstrom wasn't slated to play for the New York Islanders on Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but with Kieffer Bellows sick, Wahlstrom drew back into the lineup. And well it didn't go well for him. Wahlstrom was benched 18 minutes into the second period.
In a game Wahlstrom wasn't supposed to play he didn't perform. That's, you know, not ideal. And now the 21-year-old is going to have to prove he can be trusted:
"“He’s gotta sorta rebuild that [trust] again,” Trotz said earlier in the day of the 21-year-old. “Give me the first shift and if the first shift’s good, then the second shift. We’ll just go shift by shift.”"- Barry Trotz
New York Islanders: What Oliver Wahlstrom needs to do
So what does that mean exactly? Obviously, Barry Trotz was short on the details as to what Wahlstrom needs to do in order to regain his trust, but I think it's pretty clear what the kid needs to work on.
It hasn't really changed for a while now. We know that Wahlstrom has offensive skills. That's not where the problem is for him. It's his work off the puck and basically anything not involved directly in creating scoring opportunities. Which honestly has been the case for a while. Remember this quote from Barry Trotz?
The issue with Wahlstrom's game was never his offensive instincts but how he performs off the puck and in the lead up to the offensive phase of the game. And that's still the issue now. He still makes questionable decisions with the puck when breaking out of the zone. He's still making rough decisions when coming back to support defensively.
Is Barry being too harsh? Maybe. After all, Oliver Wahlstrom is only 21. He doesn't turn 22 until June. Young players make mistakes, specifically on the defensive side of the game. When I speak to prospects I always ask what they need to work on and every time they say it's the defensive side of the game. Every time.
So to expect an offense-first guy like Wahlstrom, who's struggled with the systematic side of the game for years now, and is still only 21 to just get it now seems a bit too tough.
That doens't mean Wahlstrom needs to be let off the hook, but the leash might need to be loosened a little.
But to answer the question; what does Oliver need to do to regain Trotz's trust?
Start with contextual awareness. When a clear is necessary, make sure the puck is cleared. When he's late in a shift get the puck deep. When the play breaks back to the D-Zone get up to help. That has to be where things start and build off of that.
If Wahlstrom can do that he'll start building back trust with Barry Trotz and get himself back to some regular middle-six ice time.