If Oliver Wahlstrom was upset with his treatment at the hands of Barry Trotz, he did a good job of hiding it.
After a rough second half of the season, in which Wahlstrom’s minutes were often held below 10, he was made a healthy scratch twice in the season’s final weeks and he badly struggled, scoring just three goals after the All-Star break, the 21-year-old forward cast an upbeat demeanor in his last time speaking with reporters this season on Saturday morning.
“It was good,” he said of his relationship with Trotz. “I need tough love sometimes. It’s part of the game; it’s part of the business. It was just ups and downs for me, obviously, this year. I love the game, and I take information in and try to use that.”
Wahlstrom, the 11th overall pick in 2018, has tantalizing potential, with a big shot and offensive prowess. And in the early part of the season, he seemed to be putting it together, with 10 goals before the All-Star break. Then, his production fell flat.
Coupled with his struggles in his own end — Trotz often cited poor puck management in explaining why he was upset with Wahlstrom’s play — that made for a long end to the season. Trotz tried putting him on a line with Mathew Barzal, a duo that had potential on paper, but despite a few promising moments, it didn’t work consistently.
The Islanders coach, though, also regularly made mention of Wahlstrom’s youth, a factor he gave a reminder of Saturday when he said road trips this season were the first time he had ever been to California.
“I think for me everything could be better,” Wahlstrom said. “This summer, I’m gonna work on shooting, goal-scoring, skating, edges, my nutrition. Everything.”
Despite his age, Wahlstrom is entering a critical offseason. Next season is the last year of his rookie deal, meaning the Islanders will need to decide whether to make a longer-term commitment sooner rather than later. Another factor in that mix is GM Lou Lamoriello’s March declaration that he would use the offseason to make “hockey trades” in search of fixing the issues that plagued the Isles this season.
If another team sees more value in Wahlstrom’s potential than the Islanders, that would make him a logical candidate to be on the move.
Kyle Palmieri drew a comparison between the situation he found himself in early on in his career with the Anaheim Ducks and the current predicament facing Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows. Though Palmieri had potential, and would sometimes play on the first line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, his minutes were inconsistent and he’d occasionally be out of the lineup entirely.
Eventually, Palmieri became a consistent 25-goal scorer, but his breakout season didn’t come until he hit age 24 and was playing on the other side of the country with the Devils.
“I think as you move forward, not that you have to sit and wait for your opportunity, but they’re gonna get an opportunity to grow and continue to be better hockey players,” Palmieri said. “Sometimes it takes time.
“For me it took, I guess you can call it a change of scenery and an opportunity in New Jersey, and that was when I was 24 or 25 years old, to find that consistent level of being an impact player night in and night out. So I think those guys are on the right track. They’re both really talented players.”
For him, that breakout came when he was consistently in the lineup. Getting to that point for Wahlstrom will require following through on the little things Trotz has harped on, as well as a much better offensive output than he produced late in the season.
Noah Dobson, who was drafted with the pick immediately after Wahlstrom, took that leap this season. Next season, Wahlstrom wants it to be his turn.
“I’m excited to work on those things,” Wahlstrom said. “I know the type of player I can be and the confidence I can get.”
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