Islanders Need Wahlstrom to Step Up to Turn Their Season Around

On Nov 15th, in a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 21-year-old forward Oliver Wahlstrom only played 8:33 minutes of ice time. The lack of time on the ice for Wahlstrom was a surprise to many considering he not only is one of the best scorers on the New York Islanders but a pivotal part of a struggling offense, which is scoring only 2.00 goals per game.

Related: 3 Takeaways From Islanders’ 6-Game Losing Streak

Wahlstrom hasn’t scored a goal since the Nov 4th game against the Montreal Canadiens, which the Islanders won 6-2 and the dry spell could be a part of the reason he played a decreased role in the game. Likewise, inconsistency is not a new thing for Wahlstrom, as he scored eight goals and five assists in the span of 16 games last season to then go 10 games without recording a point.

Brock Nelson will miss at least two weeks with a lower-body injury. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, this season, the 21-year-old forward is second on the team in goals scored with five goals, trailing only Brock Nelson, who will be out for the upcoming weeks with a lower-body injury. If the Islanders and the offense are going to turn around their season, winning only five of their first 15 games, they will need Walstrom to play a significant role in the turnaround and step up on the offensive end of the ice.

Wahlstrom’s Skillset

Wahlstrom is one of the most accurate shooters on the team and possibly in the NHL. The accurate shot in particular gives him an edge in the offensive zone if he can find open ice. Wahlstrom additionally is best at finding space in the offensive zone by the faceoff circles, allowing him to pick apart a goaltender off of strong puck movement for the Islanders. Moreover, the 21-year-old forward is one of the best skaters on the team and can create on the wing plenty of scoring chances and possibly develop into a playmaker as he draws opponents and opens up the ice for the rest of the offense.

Which Forward Line Best Suits Wahlstrom?

Considering his skill set, the question is where Wahlstrom should play, especially with the Islanders line combinations being shuffled on a nightly basis, an unfortunate result of losing key players like Nelson, Anders Lee, and Josh Bailey. Wahlstrom isn’t going to be the playmaker or the skater that sets up the goal, at least not yet. As one of the more promising forwards on the roster, it’s crucial for head coach Barry Trotz to find the right line for his young forward as it will jumpstart the offense altogether.

Anders Lee, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ideally, Wahlstrom benefits the most from a center who takes up defensemen and possibly opens up the ice in the offensive zone and especially by the faceoff circles for effective shots on the net. The skaters that Wahlstrom generally plays on the same shift with are Mathew Barzal and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, but with Pageau struggling to start the season, it might be in the best interest to move the 21-year-old forward to the top line to give the Islanders a more potent scoring attack.

The Islanders Need The Youth In the Forward Unit

The Pittsburgh Penguins had an aging roster a few years ago but a young Jake Guentzel played a crucial role in revitalizing the forward unit and giving it a young scoring presence. Similarly, the Boston Bruins a few years back were a team on the decline with many players past their prime but David Pastrnak became the young top-line goalscorer to return the team to one of the more competitive ones in the NHL.

David Pastrnak Boston Bruins
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders have one of the oldest rosters in the NHL with an average age of 29.8 and early on in the 2021-22 season, the roster has looked like one of the older ones in the NHL, especially when it comes to skating and the puck movement. Wahlstrom can return some of the fire-power that the Islanders offense currently lacks but more importantly, bring a strong youth presence to the forward lines that the team currently needs.

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