The New York Islanders defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Monday afternoon in dramatic fashion, scoring two goals late in the third period before Mathew Barzal set up Devon Toews for the game-winning goal in overtime. Through the first 54 and a half minutes, the Islanders seemed to be on cruise control, albeit they were at 40mph with their flashers on and holding onto the steering wheel for dear life. The one bright spot through nearly 55 minutes of (mediocre) play was rookie Oliver Wahlstrom who made his NHL debut.
In 15:13 of ice time, Wahlstrom had two shots, one hit, and saw 1:07 on the power play. His first shift was short, but the 6-foot-2, 211-pound rookie made his presence known, throwing his body around, though he got more glass than he would have liked on his first hit attempt. Following the game, Wahlstrom said to NHL.com’s Brian Compton, “Right before my first shift, Barzy told me, ‘there’s a little more [room] than you think.’ That first chance I had, he was right.”
He took that advice to heart throughout the rest of the game, showing his patience with the puck and not being afraid to go to the dirty areas to retrieve it. Wahlstrom also made a couple of nice moves towards the net with the puck, generating some good chances during an otherwise flat offensive game from the Islanders.
With Josh Ho-Sang not reporting to the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Wahlstrom was the “next man up” with the goal of showing head coach Barry Trotz that he intends to stick around.
“I thought he was really good,” Trotz said. “I thought he was really effective. I thought for his first game he didn’t look out of place at all. He was physical. The speed wasn’t an issue. I thought he moved his feet, he stayed involved. He didn’t watch the game. He was strong on pucks and he got some opportunities. He put himself in a position to get some opportunities. For a first game, it was a good one.”Head Coach Barry Trotz on Oliver Wahlstrom’s first game, via NHL.com
He didn’t need much time to settle in, and frankly, he didn’t have it. Wahlstrom got back to Bridgeport early Sunday morning. After a nap, he got the call from the Islanders.
“It was pretty humbling to get that call and come up and prepare for this game,” Wahlstrom said. “It was an unbelievable game and win for us. I’m very fortunate to have gotten this call.”
His father, Joakim, was able to watch his son in his NHL debut and even helped him pick out his son’s tie. “It was really special,” Wahlstrom recalled. “He helped me choose out my tie today. It got really emotional.”
Wahlstrom’s road to the NHL was anything but typical. After making his way through the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, he found an opportunity to play college hockey at Boston University. He didn’t have a particularly great year, notching 19 points in 36 games, but decided to leave the college ranks even before being offered an amateur tryout with the Sound Tigers. Eventually in Bridgeport, he played just five games, but managed to contribute, scoring two goals and adding an assist. After being a late cut in camp heading into this season, he started the season strong in the AHL with a goal and three points in four games, earning the call up to the Islanders.
Wahlstrom, the Islanders’ 2018 first-round pick (11th overall), hopes his effort in his debut leads to a continued spot in the lineup. With Jordan Eberle’s injury still unclear, it appears Walhstrom will have a least a couple of games with the big club.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.