Oliver Wahlstrom’s patience, focus paying off for Islanders

Oliver Wallstrom’s power play goal at 11:53 of the first period on Monday was not noteworthy for any achievement, not even for its impact on the Islanders’ eventual 4-2 victory. No, this is important because of what came before.

Before the season, Wahlstrom spoke of a new mentality, saying he put too much pressure on himself last season during a poor second half. His playing time last year was erratic and so was his focus. The run-up to Monday was the first opportunity this season to see if they would accept themselves for action.

Wallstrom has not scored a goal in eight games and his ice time has fallen under 10 minutes in three straight games. Coach Len Lambert sat him through the closing period of games regularly, including the last 7:09 of the third period and overtime against Columbus two days earlier. It was easy to frown.

Instead, Wahlstrom put the words into action.

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“I think I’m a lot better in this situation now,” Wallstrom told The Post on Wednesday, before the Islanders travel to Nashville for Thursday’s game against the Predators. “Just quieter. It is what it is.”

Islanders
Oliver Wallstrom
USA Today Sports

“I obviously want to be there, I obviously want to contribute, but at the same time, for a young player, there are responsibilities. I’m not rushing the process now. I’m staying in it and enjoying the process as well.”

At 22, Wallstrom remains the Islanders’ youngest player, with five months between him and Alexander Romanov and Noah Dobson (members of the second defensive duo were born just a day apart). This is a fact that gets lost in the conversation about a player in his third full season in the NHL. So this is it: development is rarely a straight line.

Despite this scoreless streak, Wallström has nine points (five goals, four assists) in 16 games, and is scoring nearly twice the rate he did last season. Not everything will come tomorrow but if he stays on course there is still a lot for the talented youngster to do.

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“For me, it’s just keeping a steady mind,” Wahlstrom said. “Obviously there will be frustrations within the game. Don’t let that get to you. Being even, not too high, not too low, no matter when it’s ice, no matter what situations are there. Just stay level-headed.”

The message Lambert sent, at least in speaking to reporters, was one of continued encouragement. He would like to see Wallstrom use his shot more, but on Wednesday he indicated his mentality was in the right place

“He’s doing a very good job of just refocusing and focusing on what he can control and doing the best he can at that,” said Lambert. “As a result, it was a success.”

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Oliver Wallstrom takes on Alexis Lafrenière of the Rangers.
USA Today Sports

The Islanders want Wallstrom to be a powerful striker who can play a heavy game and threaten opposing goalkeepers. It’s not hard to see a streak from there being so consistent with Matthew Barzal. And indeed, the two have been together frequently this season, outscoring opponents 8-2 on even strength, according to the natural stats trick.

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Perhaps last season, when calls from the fanbase to see the two together reached a fever pitch before the duo fell out, was too soon. There will be more ups and downs – Wahlstrom’s development curve is far from over – but the signs are good.

“It’s clear that my game is still growing and heading in the right direction,” said Wahlstrom. “I can still count on a lot of the older guys. For me now it’s playing the right way and it still depends on the players.

“Patience is key with me. I know when I take one look at a match, it’s a big chance.”

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