There are plenty of reasons why New York Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom should be self-motivated this season. He's only 23, but entering his fifth NHL season, the opportunities to demonstrate that he can be a consistent scorer and all-around player on Long Island aren't unlimited.
Coming off an injury-shortened fourth NHL season that saw him play just 35 games, he returns to a team that has more forward depth than it did a season ago when he averaged around 12:00 TOI a night. While the window for Zach Parise's return remains open, the Isles forwards now include Bo Horvat, Pierre Engvall, Hudson Fasching, and Julien Gauthier, four players who were not in the fold when Wahlstrom went down in December.
In an exclusive interview with the 2018 1st round pick, Stefen Rosner of The Hockey News questioned Wahlstrom about accepting his one-year qualifying offer, which ended up being a small decrease from his AAV the previous season. Wahlstrom will be a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) at the end of this season, hoping this is the year he earns a multi-year extension.
"The contract stuff doesn't really fuel me," Wahlstrom said in the interview.. "What's fueling me is my health, how I'm feeling, my knee, how I treated myself the last nine months, that stuff."
Wahlstrom has talked extensively about how the injury was a "blessing" in disguise, allowing to take a step back and recalibrate how he needs to approach the game. He called it "the best eight months I’ve ever had in my life" as he aims to find the necessary next gear in his game to become a valued piece of the Islanders current core and future.
"The contracts are external things that you can't really focus on," Wahlstrom added. "You just got to focus on the internal stuff and go from there. I'm happy to be back."
With the season approaching, Wahlstrom needs to focus on what needs to be done to earn himself a spot in the lineup come Opening Night. His spot feels a bit uncertain when you write out the Islanders lines and he hasn't been afforded the opportunity to skate with Mathew Barzal and Horvat the way Simon Homstrom and even Arnaud Durandeau did earlier in the pre-season.
Wahlstrom appears to be in the right head space, and while there's surely some patience on the organization's side given his return from a serious injury, the competition amongst the forward group does not afford the sniper much time to fuel his game in a positive direction.