There was very little change from the New York Islanders’ roster from the 2019-20 team that made a run to the Eastern Conference Final. The two new additions, though, have been Oliver Wahlstrom, who has been on fire to start this year, along with Ilya Sorokin, who has replaced Thomas Greiss as Semyon Varlamov’s backup. 33 games into the season, both these players have chances of winning the Calder Trophy, as Mat Barzal did in 2017-18.
Wahlstrom played in only nine games during the 2019-20 season. He was in the press box during the Islanders playoff run and suddenly is one of the team’s best forwards, playing on the third line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau. In the month of March, Wahlstrom has arguably been the Islanders’ most consistent forward. He has not only cemented himself as a regular in the lineup, but has been able to produce. The young sniper picked up his first career goal this season against the Capitals. While he is known for his terrific shot, Wahlstrom threw a knuckleball on goal that was deflected off a defender and into the net.
Since then, he has often displayed his lethal shot both on the power play and even strength. Wahlstrom has eight goals and 14 points and also had the game-winner in the shootout against the Devils on March 14. His presence on the second power-play unit has made an impact and he has been showing why he was a first-round pick in 2018. He even had his first NHL fight this season. As of right now, Wahlstrom is two goals back of Kirill Kaprizov with his eight goals and is 10 points back for the lead in points by rookies. Wahlstrom has played in 26 games, and with Anders Lee out for the remainder of the season, it would not be surprising to see Wahlstrom have a chance to play on the first line at some point with Barzal and Jordan Eberle.
There was tons of excitement coming into the season for both the Islanders and the New York Rangers with their young goaltenders. So far this year, Ilya Sorokin has outshined Igor Shesterkin and has been arguably one of the best rookie goaltenders in the league. Unlike Wahlstrom, Sorokin does not have the chance to play in every game as he is the backup to a potential Vezina Trophy finalist in Semyon Varlamov.
However, after a tough start for Sorokin in his NHL debut against the New York Rangers after Varlamov was injured in warmups, he has been nothing short of spectacular. Not only was he able to earn his first win, but Sorokin also registered a 20-save shutout for his first victory in the NHL against the Buffalo Sabres. He followed that up with another 20-save shutout, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins after almost two weeks off. Sorokin’s strong play has forced head coach Barry Trotz to get his rookie goaltender some extra starts. He currently is on an eight-game win streak, and, after only starting 4 of the first 20 games, Sorokin has been in goal for 7 of the past 13.
The biggest area Sorokin is looking to improve upon is his rebound control, but he still has an 8-2-1 record with a goal against average of 1.97 and save percentage of .922. Sorokin has allowed only three or more goals 3 times through his first 11 starts and has a chance for more playing time following his strong performance of late.
With the Islanders just a bit past the midway point of the season, both Wahlstrom and Sorokin have work to do to win the Calder Trophy. For Wahlstrom, if he can continue contributing to the power play, he has a terrific chance of scoring 15 to 20 goals this season. For Sorokin to win, he may need to start a stretch of games, but in any event, both have been key contributors to the terrific season on Long Island.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.