It was supposed to be a big 2022-23 season for Oliver Wahlstrom.
The NY Islanders forward suffered a knee injury just 24 seconds into his first shift in game 35 of the season that kept him out of the lineup for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. Before going down with injury, Wahlstrom tallied seven goals and nine assists for 16 points. After a few months from a media hiatus, he expressed he was pleased with his short season before he was injured.
"I thought I was making strides," Wahlstrom explained to the media on Monday. "The first month was awesome, then a little bit of a dip, then I got right back up to where I was again. Then the injury happened. So for me, it’s about staying even-keeled. This injury, I look at it as a blessing."
The last couple of years have been a whirlwind for the Islanders and because Wahlstrom was one of the youngest players around the team, although frustrating, he took his injury as an opportunity to learn, reset, and put himself in a better position to return as the best version of himself that he can be.
"Very frustrating," Wahlstrom explained about his injury. "I thought I had a really good summer and a pretty good first half to the season. But it’s part of the game. These first 3-4 years in the league, I’ve been learning a lot. This new injury, the first year in the playoffs, the second year not in the playoffs. Really, I’m kind of fortunate this injury happened, a little setback for me to calm down and relax. Do the things I can do to put myself in the best position to return as quickly as possible next year."
Fortunatelty for Wahlstrom, he was able to lean on a teammate who had been through a similar sitution. In March, 2021, Islanders captain Anders Lee suffered an ACL injuiry that kept him out for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs when the Islanders met the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.
"Oh a ton," Wahlstrom explained when asked how much he relied on Lee. "Obviously the first couple of weeks is tough. I had to have my sister take care of me 24/7. I texted him a lot of questions. Then also missing playoffs, to be honest it was a little depressing at the start because you want to be out there with your team, help them win, grind and sweat because that’s what you play all year for. I learned that side of it too and I can just grow for this."
Wahlstrom joked that his summer started in December. He's been in offseason training mode for a while now. Beleive it or not, however, he hasn't seen the ice yet. According to him, that's coming within the next couple of weeks.
If you remember, when Lee returned from his ACL injury, it took him a while to look like himself. Wahlstrom injured himself a few months earlier in the season compared to the timing of Lee's injury, so his recovery timeline is likely more favorable for training camp. According to the 22-year-old forward, he'll be good to go to start next season.
"I think I’ll be good to go. I’m gonna do everything I can to set myself up for success next season," Wahlstrom said. "We’ll see how it goes, but I’m gonna do everything I can to get healthy. I mean, I’m 22 years old and I’ve been working out for the last five months so I should be ready to go."
Wahlstrom's positive outlook on his injury is contagious. You could see the confidence in his demeanor when talking about what he's learned through the experience and how he believes he's going to bounce back. You got the sense that Wahlstrom was beginning to gain that confidence on the ice before his injury too, such as scoring some really nice goals with authority or taking on Tony DeAngelo in a fisticuffs tilt. Heading into next season, Wahlstrom knows exactly the kind of player he wants to be.
"For me, I’m a big guy, I think I’m gonna put a little more muscle on this summer," Wahlstrom explained. "I think there’s where my game needs to trend. I have the skill and the skill is still there, but I have a lot of fun when I create a little havoc. I think I stay in games more when I’m like that. I’ll always be a guy who if a teammate goes down or something, I’m not afraid to throw them around, but I’m not that guy that's looking for it. I think that’s the next step in my game, to be a hard-nosed power forward that puts the puck in the net and keeps playing that style."