New York Islanders second-year player Simon Holmstrom had a couple of firsts this past week. For the first time in his career, he spent time in the penalty box when he was called for a tripping penalty in the first period of the Isles' 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. The Isles don't want to see more of that, but what they do want to see more of is what Holmstrom displayed on his first goal of the season in Tuesday's 7-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
Whether he's playing with Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat or on JG Pageau's line with a rotating winger on the other side, the refrain from the coaching staff has been the same - shoot the puck.
“I feel like he's holding on to the puck more now,” head coach Lane Lambert said after Wednesday's practice, the day after Holmstrom's first goal of the year. “He has more confidence to make plays. We know he can shoot. He started shooting right from day one of rookie camp, and you saw what he can do last night when he does shoot the puck.”
It should be expected that Holmstrom is playing with more confidence and feels more comfortable this season. There's a big difference for a player to make it through training camp and start the season with the team compared to being brought up during the season, unsure if a key mistake or bad game will have you sent back down to Bridgeport.
"It's been coming lately," Holmstrom said of his shot. "You watch film after the game and see what you can do differently, and I think that's one of the things I need to do more, shoot the puck."
The Islanders are glad he's in agreement. When the team elected to put Ross Johnston on waivers, where the Anaheim Ducks claimed him, it served as a sign that they want Holmstrom to be part of the lineup most nights and that it's the NHL where he'll be earning minutes. He's a former first-round pick that is more skilled offensively than what he's shown. If he combines that with his responsible defensive play, he can be a significant contributor moving forward.
“He's a super-skilled player and always has been,” defenseman and Swedish country-mate Sebastian Aho said. “I'm just glad more people are seeing it now. He’s played some great hockey. I'm sure he'll take more shots and make more and more plays the longer the season goes on when he gets even more confident.”