NY Islanders: Oliver Wahlstrom Big Key for Next Season
Now that the season is over for the New York Islanders, it's time to look at how this team can get better for next year. One of the keys for the Islanders to improve next season is the play of Oliver Wahlstrom.
It's no secret the Islanders need to improve from an offensive standpoint. In the regular season, the Isles were 22nd in goals per game at 2.95 (of the playoff teams, only the Minnesota Wild were worse at 23rd with 2.91 Goals per Game). In terms of the power play, the Isles finished the regular season 30th with a 15.8%.
This trend continued in a very tight six-game series with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Isles scored two goals or fewer in three of the six games. The Isles' power-play for the series was a dreadful 1 for 18 (5.6%). Improved goal production will be needed if the Isles are going to be a team that both makes the playoffs next year and goes on a post-season run.
Why is Wahlstrom so important?
Owner of the best pure shot on the team, there is no doubt that Wahlstrom has the skillset to be a big-time goal scorer. Last season the Isles only had three players hit at least 20 goals (Brock Nelson 36, Anders Lee 28, Zach Parise 21). Mathew Barzal (14 Goals in 58 Games) and Kyle Palmieri (16 Goals in 55 Games) were also on a 20+ goal pace but missed extended time due to injury.
Given the Islanders' tight salary cap situation, an uninspired unrestricted free-agent talent pool, and a lack of trading internal assets, the Islanders will likely have to improve from within. That's where Wahlstrom comes in. Wahlstom, the 22-year-old winger and the 11th overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft has shown flashes he become a 30+ goal scorer. Now with 161 regular season games under his belt, he needs to take that jump next seasonfor the Isles.
Last season Wahlstrom was lost for the year due to an injury near the halfway point. He finished with seven goals and 16 points in 35 games. The Islanders are going to need more from him next season and Wahlstrom expects to be ready and healthy.
"I think I'll be good to go, I'll do everything I can to set myself up for success next season and see how it goes," Wahlstrom said during the team's clean out day on Monday. "I'll do everything I can to get healthy. I mean I'm 22 and I've been working out the last five months, so I should be ready to go."
There is an opening in the Islanders' top six. Pierre Engvall, who played on the second line after being acquired at the trade deadline, is a UFA. Engvall played well after being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline, and his speed is something the roster is lacking. However, the Islanders' tight cap situation might make a return to Long Island tricky, plus he hasn't established himself as a top-six forward. Josh Bailey is no longer a top-six player; odds are he will be elsewhere next season. If Parise comes back, he will likely remain J.G Pageau's winger on the third line.
The Isles' current top six Barzal consists of Lee, Bo Horvat, Nelson, and Palmieri. Wahlstrom is the last piece for the Islanders' top six. The Islanders need Wahlstrom to show next season that he belongs in their top-six night and night out. They need him to break the 20-goal mark and help improve their power play with his electric shot.
Wahlstrom alone won't fix the team's goal production from this past season in both the regular season and the playoffs. As stated, the power play has to improve greatly, and the Isles top line of Barzal - Horvat has to play like a top line. If those three things happen, the offense will be greatly improved. Provided they continue to be a strong defensive team (5th in the NHL in the regular season with 2.65 Goals Allowed per Game, although in 2 of their losses in the series vs Carolina, the Isles's had a 1-goal 3rd-period lead) the Isles will be greatly improved and should be a tough team to deal with come next year.
The time is now for Wahlstrom to step forward and become a key Islander for years to come.