Islanders’ Oliver Wahlstrom starts to get it: ‘playing for free’

It’s no secret what it would mean for the Islanders if Oliver Wahlstrom could take the next step.

A 2018 first-round pick, Wahlstrom has a killer shot, real skill at his game, and a noticeable swagger on the ice when he does. Talent was never the question, even when he scored just three times in the second half of last season. And right now, after matching that number in his first two games this season, he looks like someone who could put it up.

« I guess he’s playing free, » Islanders coach Lane Lambert said after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Sharks, in which Wahlstrom scored the game-clinching goal and then added another in the third period. . « I think whenever you’re a guy who’s a shooter or a scorer, if you do the details and the little things in the game, it leads to that. »

As tempting as it is to focus on Wahlstrom’s score. it was the small details that held him back last year. And it’s no small feat that Lambert notices the change this time around.

Oliver Wahlstrom scores a goal over John Gibson during the second period, the first of his two goals, of the Islanders’ 5-2 win over the Sharks.

It wasn’t what Wahlstrom did with the puck that scared off former coach Barry Trotz. It was his positioning, his play in the defensive zone and the occasional carelessness he displayed with the puck that put him in the niche.

In two games (Wahlstrom missed Game 1 with an upper body injury), there has been none of that.

« It was a good learning curve for me last year, » Wahlstrom said. “I just had to stick to my game, keep it simple. Obviously I was too hard on myself last year and leaning on a lot of guys in the room.

Diverting credit to his teammates was something Wahlstrom did again when asked about goals.

« Obviously it’s good to be on the board, but it’s really, those two goals, you saw my teammates the way they worked. I just needed to set myself up to get the puck. My first goal was everything [Anders Lee] and [Brock Nelson], they set it up. It opened up my game.”

Both goals came after Lambert moved Wahlstrom into the top six during the second period, putting him on a line with Lee and Nelson. The former came out of a face-off on what looked like a set play, the latter on a slap shot with Noah Dobson providing the assist.

But again, it’s about the little things.

“He worked really hard over the summer,” Lambert said. “Give him credit – not everyone works hard in the summer. He’s worked hard over the summer to improve those areas in his game. Wall play: puck goes around the wall, has to get out, he does. »

If he keeps doing it, the rewards will keep coming.


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