Islanders’ Oliver Wahlstrom showing he’s not intimidated by the playoff stage

For any rookie in any sport, the postseason can be a frightening time. The intensity is dialed up, every mistake is magnified, each crucial moment can be the difference between winning and losing. This is doubled when it comes to Stanley Cup Playoffs with how much speed and increased physicality the games are played with.

Oliver Wahlstrom is one of two Islanders rookies getting their first taste of postseason hockey in their careers, the other being goaltender Ilya Sorokin. Through the Islanders’ first-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins so far, the 20-year-old forward has embraced the challenges that come with playing in the playoffs. Wahlstrom’s been engaged, not afraid to get nasty, and created chances offensively. He also earned his first playoff point in Sunday’s game one victory on Kyle Palmieri’s OT winner.

This has been a welcoming sight to see after how some of the Isles’ more prominent forwards have yet to make an impact. Wahlstrom has been on a line with Palmieri and J.G. Pageau, and they have been arguably the best line for the Islanders after two games.

“Wally was really strong,” head coach Barry Trotz said after game one. “He was really strong on the walls, for the most part, he was on the right side of the puck. I always judge how a player reacts on the puck battles and when it gets chaotic in his own end. I thought he was really calm. He wasn’t small in those big moments. When it got chaotic, he wasn’t running around. He got in position, he did what he needed to do… Hopefully, he can carry that forward. That was a really good first step for him.”

Even in last night’s 2-1 loss — despite taking three consecutive penalties in the second period, one I might add was a total garbage call — Wahlstrom kept pushing hard. Trotz also kept playing him. That shows trust. In any other situation where someone on the team commits those types of fouls, he wouldn’t see the ice for a while in that specific game (see Mathew Barzal during the regular season).

Wahlstrom was solid for the Islanders in the regular season — 21 points 44 games — but there was a lot of speculation about how he would react to a bigger stage. He’s embraced it fully. Sure two games might be a small sample size, but it’s an encouraging sign for what might come from him the rest of the series.

The Isles split in Pittsburgh and are now coming back home for a pivotal game three tomorrow night. It will be Wahlstrom’s first experience of playing in front of a playoff crowd at Nassau Coliseum. That should be a fun sight to see. And if what we’ve seen from him to this point is any indication, that type of environment won’t faze him either.

One element that won’t be talked about as much from the Isles game two loss was the incredible work by the penalty kill. Shorthanded the Islanders were again 2-for-2, which makes them now a perfect 5/5 man down in the series. Leo Komarov was once again a monster, helping take time off the clock and giving the Pens fits. D-man Scott Mayfield was also terrific especially when Pittsburgh was trying to find scoring lanes.

As the series shifts to Long Island, one has to think the Islanders’ play at home this year could really prove huge the next two games. Yes the only team they really struggled with at home was the Penguins; Pittsburgh accounted for two of the club’s seven defeats on home ice, both of which came in overtime. But the Islanders seem to be a different squad in front of their fans and they’ll get 6,800 of them rocking the barn starting tomorrow night, the most they’ve played in front of all season.

It might be time for the Islanders to give Oliver Wahlstrom a shot on the first line

As the Islanders have sputtered a bit of late — 3-4-0 — in their last seven, the pressing need for more offense has reared its ugly head again.

Everyone has been screaming for g.m. Lou Lamoriello to make a deal to help at least solve some of the problem. Fact is the trade deadline is still 13 days away and Lamoriello biding his time and looking over all his options. After all, his most favorite quote goes, “If you have time, use it.”

But now as the Isles begin a crucial six-game homestand which includes two matchups with the division-leading Capitals and the high-powered Rangers, they are going to need their first line to show out. And as we’ve seen since Anders Lee went down a few weeks ago, that line has not had the same impact they were having all season. Head coach Barry Trotz has tried to find the right formula and given Leo Komarov and Kieffer Bellows chances there. Both have been unsuccessful.

So with that said, there might be one option left: giving rookie Oliver Wahlstrom a shot on the top line.

Wahlstrom has proven he’s game for playing in big spots. He was on the ice last week with the Islanders trailing in Philadelphia and with the game tied against Boston, and was the one who ended up getting goals on those shifts. Furthermore, he’s shown an edge to in his style of play that mirrors a bit of how Lee is looked at. Watching the freshman sensation for close to 30 games already, he’s enjoys the physical element and get in the dirty areas, and he hasn’t been afraid to throw his 6’2, 205-pound frame around.

Aside from how it would be a nice promotion for the 20-year-old, and showing how much faith the coaching staff has in him, both Barzal and Jordan Eberle would benefit from a presence like Wahlstrom brings. Wahlstrom could open up more space and allow Barzal and Eberle to flex their offensive muscles that have been taken away as of late. For someone who loves to dish it (Barzal) and Wahlstrom (rip it), the two would be a formidable duo. The line as a unit would also gain from the added jump No. 26 has. With all due respect to Komarov, he’s not built to play first-line minutes, neither from a skill or in speed perspective. Wahlstrom provides both in bunches, as seen from the success he’s had playing with J.G. Pageau a majority of this year.

“His attitude is top-notch on and off the ice,” Pageau said of Wahlstrom last month. “He’s doing the right things and paying attention to all the details and that’s how you get better… He’s doing everything possible to be apart of this team.”

The Islanders have reached a point where something needs to be done to improve their attack. Their options are limited and some of what they thought were solutions — especially for their top line — clearly haven’t panned out. But one they haven’t tried yet is Wahlstrom being on the first line.

They might be smart to experiment with that idea starting now. They need a spark.

And it’s he who can be it.

Nick Leddy recorded another assist on the lone Islanders’ tally Monday night in Pittsburgh. That gave him four apples in his last three games and 24 total on the season. His career-high is 35, which came back in his third season with the organization back in 2016-17.

With 19 games, it’s not out of the realm that he passes that career best stat.

It’ll be interesting to see if Barry Trotz goes with Ilya Sorokin tomorrow night against Washington. Semyon Varlamov has gotten all the starts when the two teams have met this season, and has yet to record a win. Sorokin himself is coming off a rough performance on Saturday where he gave up four goals on nine shots and was pulled in a 6-3 loss to the Pens.

The Islanders have something this season they haven’t had in a long time

There’s a old saying in the sport of hockey: “the future has arrived”. Some say it’s a phrase that can be overrun until that reality smacks you straight in the face. Time and time again, the word future and the Islanders have become one in the same as the years have gone by. But this season, that future has taken a clear hold of where the franchise is hoping to go and looking to stay for the foreseeable future.

The Isles, and their fans for that matter, are seeing a dynamic in this COVID-induced year they haven’t witnessed in a long time — prospects living up or exceeding expectations. Three names in particular, Oliver Wahlstrom, Ilya Sorokin and Noah Dobson, have made this “youth movement” an enjoyable one for everyone to watch.

Even as Dobson deals with being in COVID protocol — yesterday marked his tenth day on the league’s list — he was having a solid sophomore campaign and was near the top in stats for defensemen on the club.

As for Wahlstrom and Sorokin, both of them have played a significant role in the team’s success and have people around the league buzzing.

The 20-year-old Wahlstrom has proven to be the sniper the organization has been clamoring for for what seems like decades. He’s already tallied eight goals, each more impressive to the last, and has 15 points overall in just 26 games. Mind you he’s doing this as a bottom-six forward — he’s playing on the third line centered by J.G. Pageau — which makes what’s he’s been doing extremely admirable. Wahlstrom’s teammate Sorokin, albeit five years older, as I wrote yesterday is showing he’s as advertised from how spectacular he was during his dominating tenure in the his homeland in the KHL.

“His confidence is growing and you see that in net,” Casey Cizikas said about Sorokin a few weeks back. “His work ethic in practice is above and beyond. He’s working and he’s getting better at his game. You’re seeing that out there. He’s made some really big saves for us at some key times.”

Sorokin has helped provide the Isles with essentially the best goaltending duo in the NHL along with veteran Semyon Varlamov. Not only that, he’s provided a glimpse of why he could be an elite goaltender in the NHL for years to come.

This kind of impact from their youth has come before for the Isles, but not the way these three individuals have done it all at the same time. There was Mathew Barzal is 2017-18 when he was running roughshod over the league which ended in him as the Calder Trophy winner. There was also Josh Ho-Sang’s rise at the end of the 2016-17 season. Before that you have to go all the way back to the early 2000s when the franchise saw the fruits of labor come with Rick DiPietro and Trent Hunter.

So as you can tell, seeing three and possibly more youngsters — if Kieffer Bellows can find a role back in the lineup — making an impact all at the same time doesn’t happen often with this organization.

That’s changed this season and the Isles have become a better team for it.

Islanders head coach made it a point that having young guys on the team this year has added an extra ingredient. The team is having fun. Look no further than Wahlstrom, who during Monday night’s win in Philadelphia was caught on camera singing to the song “Here Comes the Boom!” playing over the PA.

We all know Mathew Barzal is a wizard with the puck on his stick, but to have the amount of dekes he has totaled through 33 games is almost uncanny.

Per Sportsnet last night, Barzal has tried a league-leading 179 open-ice moves when the game is played at 5-on-5.

Based on that stat, you wonder why he makes defenders look like traffic cones most of the time.

The excitement factor and how it pertains to the Islanders

If you haven’t noticed by now, the Islanders are playing an exciting brand of hockey. Entering Tuesday night’s tilt in D.C. against the Capitals, the Isles are the hottest club in the league having won their last nine consecutive games. Plus, they are currently riding a 12-game point streak and have lost just four times — twice in regulation, twice in OT all to Pittsburgh — in their last 20 games.

A key element to that surge has been the team’s offense scoring a lot more. But several of those tallies have come in rousing fashion. And those thrilling red lights have been off the stick of undoubtedly the club’s most pulsating forwards, Mathew Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom.

Even on Sunday in the shootout, the freshman Wahlstrom’s game-winner in the shootout was a snipe job that he zipped past Devils’ goalie Scott Wedgewood. So that got me thinking about which brings more excitement out of an Isles fan right now.

Is it when the puck is on Barzal’s stick at any time? Or when the puck is on Wahlstrom’s tape and he’s about to shoot?

Isles fans in a 24-hour poll voted Barzal over Wahlstrom, with him getting 64% as opposed to Wahlstrom’s 36%.

Looking at the results, the underlying factor seems to be is that Barzal is dangerous whenever the puck is with him. He’s only gotten better in that area and been dazzling blue and orange diehards going all the way back to his Calder Trophy-winning campaign in 2017-18. This year he’s taken it to a whole other level, exemplified by this masterpiece below.

Wahlstrom’s wicked shot and ability to score at the drop of a hat is a new thing almost for Islanders’ fans in a sense. The Isles have been looking for a sniper for close to half a decade now. The “Wahligator” as he’s been dubbed in the room might just be that specific guy with his capabilities.

“It gives us a threat and obviously a shot,” head coach Barry Trotz said a few weeks back when talking about his rookie forward’s electric release.

The Islanders haven’t had this type of get you to the edge of your seat type duo since the dynasty days of Mike Bossy and Brian Trottier.

Those studs became Hall of Famers.

It’s way too early to even put Barzal and Wahlstrom in any such conversation, but the amount of exhilarating feels they can bring out of fans have made them and the team incredibly fun to watch.

There’s been no word on Noah Dobson’s status for whether he will play tonight after he and J.G. Pageau sat out Sunday’s win due to showing up on the NHL’s COVID list. Pageau came off yesterday, but Dobson could again be absent which means another dose of Sebastian Aho for the Isles.

Aho was impressive Sunday (he recorded an assist on Kieffer Bellows’ opening goal) after not having suited up this season and in close to 1,100 days in an NHL game.

“I haven’t played hockey in pretty much a year so it was different,” he acknowledged on Sunday in the postgame. “I felt okay, I made some good plays and some not so good plays, but that’s to be expected. Overall, I felt okay. It was fun.”

Everyone knows how wonderful the franchise’s new hone at UBS Arena is going to be. But all the pictures, live cams, updates don’t do it justice with how spectacular a facility it’s going to be. I took a tour of the building for the first time yesterday and it was incredible what is coming for the team and the fans.

Just walking up the stairs to where you can see the ice on the upper level elicited a tingle down my spine.

 

New York Islanders: It’s time for Oliver Wahlstrom to play

The New York Islanders have only played 3 games this season but have the same problem as last season. They can’t seem to figure out how to put the puck in the back of the net consistently. I know the Isles scored 4 goals against the Rangers in the first game. But, in the last 120 minutes of gameplay, they’ve only scored 1 goal.

The Islanders aren’t going to go make a trade for a top goal scorer. So, this player must come from inside the system. The answer is obviously Oliver Wahlstrom. No other winger has goal-scoring abilities as Wahlstrom has. Where would he fit in the lineup, though? Also, how would this impact the current gameplan?

Replace Ross Johnston

Ross Johnston’s best ability is his physicality, and this is a known fact. But he only has 11 hits in 3 games this season. The fourth line has been doing their thing and together have 27 hits in 3 games.

Even Kieffer Bellows has 10 hits in 3 games. It’s not like the Islanders need more checking. They need more goal scoring. And I also believe the reason why the third line gets a lack of minutes compared to the other lines is the fact that Ross Johnston is on it. I’m not calling him completely useless. But, as a wise man once said, “Johnston can do nothing just as much as he can do something.”

The Positives of the Change

When good players get the puck in space, there’s a scoring chance to be had. And when the puck gets on the net, good things happen. The third line takes the fewest amount of shots on net, with just 5 all year.

The puck needs to get on the net, and with a crafty player like Wahlstrom, it most certainly will. Teams don’t know how to gameplan for Wahlstrom. But, they know how to stop Johnston and make him slip up. All the Isles need is a confidence boost. If the Islanders can get Bellows and Wahlstrom to feel comfortable, the third line can be one of the deadliest in the league.

Josh Bailey’s absence could open up big opportunity for some of the kids on the Islanders

It took one week into the 2020-21 season, but the Islanders have finally been hit with their first COVID-19 situation.

Josh Bailey, who was missing from practice yesterday for which the team didn’t give an explanation, was placed on the NHL’s COVID protocol list last night. Bailey being on the updated ledger was first reported by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski and later confirmed by The Athletic’s Arthur Staple.

Now it’s has not been said that Bailey did indeed test positive for COVID-19; there might be light shed on the situation after the Islanders skate this morning. But it’s easy to assume he that he has has the virus or came in contact with someone who’s had it.

With that said — and the hope is it’s the total opposite of what many suspect — Bailey’s possible absence could open up the door for a few of the Isles forwards to get a chance to play.

Starting with Kieffer Bellows, he was already in Bailey’s second-line spot yesterday with Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier. So it’s safe to say if Bailey is out, that could be Bellows role for a little bit.

Bellows when he was drafted was projected to be a top-six forward, but hasn’t gotten the opportunity to be in that spot. He played third-line wing in his short stint last season and started this year in the same role. That particular spot is still a bit of an open competition. Bellows though has done a commendable job thus far and has gotten from head coach Barry Trotz.

“A little bit of limited ice time but I was very comfortable with Kieffer’s game,” Trotz said to the media after the Isles’ win on Monday. “I thought he and Ross Johnston did a good job of establishing a forecheck and a physical game. My comfort level is good with both of those guys.”

If Bellows gets second line duties, Oliver Wahlstrom or Dmytro Timashov could finally get some game action on the third line. So too could Austin Czarnik or Otto Koivula.

All four players have yet to appear in a game while making up the mandated taxi squad.

Trotz has alluded to possibly making changes just to keep his guys and the opposition on their toes, and those four players are all suitable options. With Leo Komarov and Michael Dal Colle (coming back from injury) still on the fringe as well, they all have the ability to provide a shot in the arm for a bottom-six which has only accounted for one of the five Islanders goals through three games.

Missing Bailey for a bit might hurt the Islanders. He’s one of their most important two-way forwards and a reliable asset. But it could be a blessing in disguise.

That being an opportunity for some of the kids on the team to make some noise with him out.

For as much turbulence as there’s been in the relationship between the Islanders and Josh Ho-Sang, there’s obviously still hope there he has a future in the organization.

In a column from The Athletic today, Barry Trotz showed his support for Ho-Sang, who just began his new opportunity with Orebro over in Sweden.

“He’s a talented young man with a lot of skills,” Trotz said. “Just let him play in Europe, it could be great for him. Maybe the player in him just puts it together this year. I hope he has a ton of success there.”

The Islanders’ transition to UBS Arena continues to get closer each day. And with that there’s always new updates.

Last night was the latest and two things were made crystal clear: the facility will be home to the best ice in the NHL and the building will be ready for the start of next season “no matter what”.

The full clip from the team can be seen below:

 

New York Islanders: International prospects update

Ruslan Iskhakov, New York Islanders

The New York Islanders have a bunch of prospects playing right now, all over the world. Coverage in places like Finland and Russia isn’t as good as it is in America. I’ve taken it upon myself to report and grade some of the Islanders’ best prospects throughout the world. Without any further explanation or build-up, what are the Islanders’ international prospects playing like?

Ruslan Iskhakov

I can guarantee you, that you haven’t heard his name since he was drafted two years ago in the second round. There was a lot of hype for Iskhakov, people compared him to Mika Zibanejad. Ishkakov absolutely destroyed the Slovakia U18 league with 104 points in 2017. After two mediocre seasons at the University of Connecticut, Iskhakov made his way to the TPS. In 9 games, he has 5 points, but he most recently got healthy scratched. Iskhakov may never reach his full potential.

Otto Koivula

Otto Koivula is an NHL hopeful. In and out of the Islanders’ roster, Koivula needs to make his mark overseas. Koivula was put on loan to the Liiga in Finland and has been a solid player for the HIFK. Koivula recorded 3 points in 5 games and continues to impress in the offensive end. If he ever wants a permanent spot in the NHL, Koivula must improve the defensive side of his game.

Oliver Wahlstrom

It’s finally time, it’s Oliver Wahlstrom time. In Sweden, Wahlstrom has proved to be one of the top players for AIK. With 4 points in 6 games and a couple of spectacular goals, Wahlstrom is ready to come back over. Islander fans have been waiting for Wahlstrom for what seems like decades. He recently took a hard fall into the boards that have kept him sidelined for a couple of games, but he will be fine. Wahlstrom is ready.

Simon Holmstrom

Simon Holmstrom is so unbelievably streaky. Sometimes he’s on his games, and other games he literally just skates around. In 6 games with HC Vita Hasten, Holmstrom recorded 2 points. Holmstrom is not a goal scorer by any means; I look at him as a Zach-Aston Reese type player. Holmstrom is not ready for the NHL now, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be ready next year.

New York Islanders: A possible exciting third line combination

J.G. Pageau, New York Islanders

Not many teams in the NHL have exciting third lines. But, the New York Islanders are in the midst of creating a highly touted one. It won’t just be a line who can only forecheck and penalty kill. This line, if it develops correctly, could revolutionize the way NHL coaches set up their bottom 6 lines. Without any further build-up, here is a possible third line for the Islanders in the 2020-21′ season.

J.G. Pageau

This shouldn’t surprise any Islander fan at all. Brock Nelson isn’t dropping down a line, and no way is Trotz playing 2 of his top 3 centers on one line. Pageau will serve as the mentor for his other linemates. Pageau will teach his linemates the Islander way of playing. Islanders must get in the dirty areas and play stout defense. Pageau’s new linemates need a bit of teaching on both of these. His linemates have to learn that Hockey isn’t just about scoring goals. Pageau will be a big help in his linemates’ young careers.

Oliver Wahlstrom

The right-wing on the new third line will be one of the top Isles’ prospects, Oliver Wahlstrom. Wahlstrom is coming back to America with newfound confidence and motivation. Wahlstrom recently stated how displeased he was that he didn’t make the roster last year. Oliver Wahlstrom has been killing it overseas as of late against older players and former NHLers. I believe Wahlstrom is fully ready to step in and become the draft pick the Islanders knew that they picked.

Kieffer Bellows

Oh yeah, 2 rookies on one line, don’t mind if the Islanders do. It’s finally Kieffer Bellows’ time to shine after 3 long years in the minors. Bellows will be the sniper on the left-wing as he always should’ve been. Bellows is coming off a great year in Bridgeport with 22 goals and 9 assists in 52 games. The rookie burst onto the scene last year in the NHL with 2 goals and 1 assist in 8 games. It’s time for Bellows to get his real shot, he’ll take advantage of it.

New York Islanders: Possible 3-Way Trade for Patrik Laine

New York Islanders, Patrik Laine

The New York Islanders have the possibility to make one of their biggest acquisitions ever. But, this move will come with a price, a price that’s very steep. This possible trade has a ton of speculation behind it. A reliable source has been vocal about the proposal. This trade involves the Montreal Canadiens, the Winnipeg Jets, and of course, the New York Islanders.

The Trade for the New York Islanders:

The New York Islanders relinquish Oliver Wahlstrom, Devon Toews, a 1st round pick, a 2nd round pick, and Kieffer Bellows. The Islanders only receive Patrik Laine. Wahlstrom, Toews, and the 2nd round pick go to Winnipeg. The Canadiens give up Max Domi to the Jets, while the Isles send Bellows and a 1st rounder to them.

Analysis

Why in god’s green earth would the Islanders ever accept this trade. First of all, Montreal doesn’t need to be involved in the trade at all. Like why would the Islanders want to trade Kieffer Bellows, one of their best prospects by the way, to the Canadiens, and get nothing in return? The Canadiens would have to send Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi back the other way. No, I am not overexaggerating that trade, this is the only way the Isles can win that 3-way trade.

Revamped Trade

Here is my deal for the new 3-way Patrik Laine trade. First, cut off Montreal. The Isles don’t need Montreal to complete the trade. So, it would be Devon Toews, Oliver Wahlstrom, and a 2nd for Patrick Laine. This deal makes a lot more sense for everyone. Max Domi can find another trade to hop into, the Isles certainly can’t lose both their top forward prospects. And as an extra, trade Ladd and Ho-Sang to Ottawa for a 7th round pick.

New York Islanders: Is Patrick Laine a Real Possibility?

The New York Islanders might finally make the biggest splash of the summer. According to Roger Dicklund, a former NHL scout, the Jets and the Islanders have been making a ton of noise over a Patrick Laine deal. Now, this doesn’t mean the Islanders are 100% getting Laine, and that you should get his jersey right now. But, this does mean that there is a chance this deal could happen. The Islanders would have to give up on some big-time players if they want to obtain Laine. What would the deal look like?

3-Way Trade?

The Islanders might have to make a 3-way trade due to cap space restrictions. The problem with a 3-way trade is that the Islanders have to do all of the heavy lifting. And by heavy lifting, I mean getting rid of good young prospects.

So, in this scenario, I have a trade between the Jets, Islanders, and Lightning. The Islanders obviously receive Laine, but they have to trade Leo Komarov, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Nick Leddy to the Jets. While the Jets have to trade Laurent Brossoit and a first to the Lightning for Anthony Cirelli. This trade is a little bonkers, to say the least, but who says no?

Straight Up Trade?

The Islanders can make a straight-up trade with the Jets, but do the Jets want to take on a bad salary? Probably not, but at the same time, they can just lose Laine next year, so they don’t have a choice. So this trade is Patrick Laine for Leo Komarov, Nick Leddy, a 4th round pick, and Otto Koviula. I don’t think this is a bad trade, but it’s not a great trade. What are your thoughts on this?