Oliver Wahlstrom still isn't on the scoresheet this season, but on Saturday night in Columbus, he had his most encouraging effort of the season. After playing just 6:57 TOI versus Ottawa on Thursday night, the 23-year-old winger logged a season-high 13:51 and even was swapped out with Mathew Barzal to play with Bo Horvat and Anders Lee in the second period.
Wahlstrom has been a full participant since the start of training camp, but it's taken longer than a few weeks for him to work his way all the back from suffering an ACL injury last December. "I feel like I’m getting my speed back,” Wahlstrom said after the 2-0 win over the Blue Jackets. “I feel great. I feel like I put in so much work in the offseason and the beginning of the season. I can tell how strong I am from the rehab process, and today was a really good step in the right direction.
Wahlstrom got off seven shot attempts, but four were blocked, and two were missed. He's expecting the goals to come and that his hard work during the off-season is starting to pay off. "I love scoring goals, said Wahlstrom in The Hockey News. "That's what makes me excited, but today [Saturday night], I did the right things. I got to build [off that], relax, and have some fun."
In previous seasons under Barry Trotz, what often kept Wahlstrom off the ice wasn't his speed or skating ability, but rather he could be trusted defensively. Perhaps most encouraging was that his head coach was able to signal out that part of his game last night.
“He’s getting some reps and some consistency with these starts,” head coach Lane Lambert said of Wahlstrom. “I thought he played really well. He added an element of physicality for us. I thought his defensive play was responsible and I thought he had a couple of good chances. If he hits the net on those chances, we’ll be golden.”
Lambert has spoken about internal competition, especially for spots on the line centered by JG Pageau. He's elected to keep playing Wahlstrom over Hudson Fasching (healthy scratch the last four games) or Julian Gauthier (one appearance). A game like Saturday will make Lambert more inclined to go back to Wahlstrom again on Monday night when the Isles host the Red Wings at UBS Arena.