Oliver Wahlstrom's NY Islanders career has come to an unfortunate crossroads

The team's handling of their 2018 first-round draft pick has been rather odd.

Nov 24, 2023; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; New York Islanders right wing Oliver Wahlstrom (26) celebrates
Nov 24, 2023; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; New York Islanders right wing Oliver Wahlstrom (26) celebrates / Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Islanders have not developed enough young talent in recent seasons. Part of this is due to trading all of their first-round draft picks since 2019. The team traded their 2020 selection in exchange for J.G. Pageau, 2021 for Kyle Palmieri, 2022 for Alexander Romanov, and 2023 for Bo Horvat. Though each of these trades has panned out well for the Islanders in their pursuit of the postseason, it has left the organization without many blue-chip prospects. Their most recent top farm hands to make their debuts were Simon Holmstrom and Aatu Raty in 2023. However, Holmstrom is still developing while Raty was dealt to the Vancouver Canucks last season for Horvat.

Aside from Mathew Barzal and Noah Dobson, the Isles have not developed a top-flight player in quite some time. We know the names of first-round picks that the organization flopped on. Joshua Ho-Sang could never crack the Isles' starting lineup, while Michael Dal Colle became a solid bench piece. Kieffer Bellows continues to dominate the AHL but never replicated this performance for any NHL organization. Unfortunately, another young player is in danger of being added to this list but for different reasons than talent level.

Oliver Wahlstrom's career has come to a daunting crossroads.

The only name not mentioned in this plethora of failed first-round picks is Oliver Wahlstrom. He has become the forgotten-about Islander since he has not played since February 24th against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 31 games this season, the 23-year-old right winger has 2 goals and 4 assists. 

On one hand, we can say Wahlstrom has received multiple opportunities this season. Lou Lamoriello tendered his 2018 first-round pick a one-year $894K contract as a restricted free agent and gave him an extended tryout in training camp. After making the opening night roster, Wahlstrom played just 19 games through December in favor of Julien Gauthier. Once Patrick Roy was hired as head coach, he promised to give Wahlstrom extended playing time in search of consistency. However, this lasted just 8 games and an average of 10 minutes of ice time. 

While it seems the Islanders are set to move on from Wahlstrom, it's important to note when the struggles started for him. After showing promise in short stints between 2020 and 2021, Wahlstrom received regular playing time in 2022 under Barry Trotz. He excited the entire fanbase with his scorching start, scoring 5 goals in the first 8 games of the season. 

However, in a mirror image of Holmstrom in 2023-24, Wahlstrom never built off his early success. He recorded just 3 goals and 3 assists in the final 37 games, seeing his ice time fall from 15 minutes a game to less than 10. The 2022-23 season was not much kinder to Wahlstrom, as his season was cut short after a promising start due to a knee injury. In 35 games, he found chemistry playing alongside Barzal by scoring 7 goals and 9 assists.

For a team that is not currently in a playoff spot and lacks young talent, it is rather perplexing that the coaching staff never gave Wahlstrom a real extended tryout for next season's roster. Yes, Roy gave Wahlstrom an opportunity in February but this lasted just 8 games. Lane Lambert did not do Wahlstrom any favors either by playing him for short stints in a rotation with Gauthier, who was subsequently waived on February 2nd. Yes, Wahlstrom played regularly in 2021-22 but just like Holmstrom, he was a 21-year-old player still developing. In short, has Wahlstrom really been given a true opportunity to play for either head coach this season?

This is not to say Wahlstrom has made the most of ample opportunities, but it makes no sense at this point to ask a 23-year-old to ride the bench with the team struggling for offense. Not to mention veteran players who will either become free agents or be on the trade block come the offseason. For the Islanders to evaluate for next season, it would make more sense to play all of their young players regularly in the final 10 games. This includes prospects yet to make their debuts, like Ruslan Ishakov and Matthew Maggio. However, Wahlstrom's name has been overlooked and it is unfortunate to see his career trajectory come to a crossroads after a promising 2021 and 2022.