After months of clamoring for it, the New York Islanders fanbase finally got to see Oliver Wahlstrom and Mathew Barzal play on the same line in 2022. Although reluctant at first, former head coach Barry Trotz gave the pair an opportunity to play together in March.
New York Islanders Oliver Wahlstrom deserves another shot at playing with Mat Barzal
There were some strong early returns for the duo, but playing with Zach Parise, the line struggled as the calendar turned from March to April. Rather than serving as a spark for Wahlstrom, both he and Barzal failed to break out as their frustrating seasons continued.
"That’s part of the process of learning to play. Instead of going to space, he’s going maybe to support when he doesn’t have to. That’ll come as he gets to know and have more reps with Barzy and Zach.“They’ll be times where he’ll just have to lay in the weeds sometimes and wait for the puck and other times he’ll have to go and support. … There is a little bit of, I’ll say indecisiveness, where, am I shooting it or am I looking for something different? And Wally’s a shooter. We want him to shoot.”"- Barry Trotz
On the year, Barzal finished with 59 points off of 15 goals and 44 assists in 73 games played. This was far from a bad year, but also far from his best year. Wahlstrom similarly had a rough year - especially in the second half, ending the season with 24 points off of 13 goals and 11 assists in 73 games played.
It wasn't until March that we really got to see Barzal and Wahlstrom play together. Their first game playing an extended time together was March 13, when the Islanders defeated the Anaheim Ducks 4-3. The line opened the scoring when Barzal assisted on a goal by Zach Parise.
Arguably their best game together came on March 31 when the Islanders defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 at UBA Arena. Wahlstrom scored his 13th (a new career high) and final goal of the season, firing a one-timer off a pass from Parise.
Fans had higher expectations for Wahlstrom, but he had barriers holding him back, one of which was team management. Wahlstrom and the younger guys would be punished more than a veteran would when they made the same mistake. This was in large part due to Barry Trotz having a longer leash for his veteran players. With Lane Lambert behind the bench, we may see a different version of Wahlstrom with a fresh start.
Wahlstrom Should Get Another Shot At Skating with Barzal
Last season wasn't an easy one for him and wasn't the best representation of his game as he struggled with confidence and trying to put Trotz's teachings into practice.
Wahlstrom and Barzal appear to have a strong relationship and good chemistry off the ice. That type of connection sometimes, but doesn't always lead to on-the-ice success., but Wahlstrom has the skill set to be a 30-goal scorer skating alongside a playmaker such as Barzal
The talent is there and Wahlstrom remains a promising young player and playing with Barzal remains a promising option for Lambert next season. If the combination is given another opportunity and it works, it would have a substantial impact on the Islanders and the makeup of their forward group next season.