Oliver Wahlstrom goes from viral stardom to NHL top prospect

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There some pretty neat benefits to having a parent work at your local hockey rink. For Oliver Wahlstrom, it meant hours and hours of free ice time to hone his skills before and after school.

Growing up in Cumberland, Maine, that time on the ice helped develop the 17-year-old Wahlstrom into a highly-rated prospect as the 2018 NHL draft approaches. It also led to the hockey world first knowing his name when we was only nine years old.

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While playing for the Portland Junior Pirates in 2009, Wahlstrom was invited to participate in the TD Bank Mini 1-On-1 competition before a Boston Bruins game. It was there that all those hours in the rink by himself paid off with a viral sensation of a goal.

“I would just mess around, try some things,” Wahlstrom recently told Pro Hockey Talk. “I got up to that move and I just kept doing it and doing it and I just fell in love with it, so I was like, Hey, why not, I’m just going to try it.”

The video blew up on the Internet, even as Twitter was still in its early days of popularity. The trick shot led to a media tour that included appearances on CBS’s “The Early Show” and SportsCenter with Barry Melrose, among others. Eight years later, as Wahlstrom enters his draft year and the attention surrounding him has only increased, he looks back at that experience as good training.

“That was really cool. It was really special. At the time, it was very nerve-wracking,” he said. “But I think that was very good for me to go through at a young age. I learned all about that stuff early.”

(Two and a half years later, he scored another wild trick shot goal in the same competition.)

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Eight months from now, Wahlstrom, a center, will hear his name called in Dallas during the 2018 draft, likely within the top 10-15 picks if the various rankings are any indication. Those rankings, however, aren’t on his mind. As he helps the U.S. National Team Development Program side in the United States Hockey League this season, he has his NHL future in the “way back” of his mind, and is focusing on another title at the U-18 World Championships next spring.

“All I want to think about right now is winning gold and making sure I develop as a person,” he said. “Obviously, my mindset is to be No. 1, to be the best, so I work to be that every day. I have a mindset of I want to be first overall. I want to have that mindset. It’s cool to have the draft coming up, but right now I’m just focused on the season and getting that gold medal at the end of April.”

The 6-foot-1, 205 lbs. Wahlstrom, who models his game after the power and shots of Patrik Laine and Evgeni Malkin, is currently viewed as a sure first-rounder, and as we’ve seen with other top prospects, a good draft year could vault him up the rankings. Before the season, TSN’s Craig Button had him at No. 16, while Bob McKenzie pegged him at lucky No. 13 and ISS Hockey has him at No. 11. There’s no doubt scouts like him as a player, but there’s still plenty to improve upon.

“Wahlstrom has long been among the top forwards in his age group. A lot of it has to do with his offensive creativity. He simply makes plays. We obviously all know about his viral moment as a kid, but as a teenager he continues to grab attention with his play on the ice,” said Chris Peters, ESPN’s NHL Draft and prospects analyst. “I think we’ll all be looking for consistent production from him this year and making the players around him better. The skills are there to be a producer at the next level, with his ceiling being a top-six forward, most likely on the wing. He sees the ice so well and has the creativity that seems to translate into goals and assists.”

From the media experience at an early age to playing against older competition since he was 13 to working out with NHL players at Edge Performance Systems in Massachusetts in the off-season, Wahlstrom has prepared himself well for the next step in his hockey career.

That next step will be one of two things: the NHL or Harvard University, where he committed as a 15-year-old, 18 months after committing and de-committing to Maine as a seventh-grader. Being friendly with the Donato family, including Crimson head coach and former NHLer Ted Donato, played a big role in his college selection.

“He’s a great coach and how they’ve been doing the past couple of years, they’re really coming along,” Wahlstrom said. “Hopefully I can come in and contribute a lot and be a good player for them coming up in the future.”

In helping him get to the point where he had NCAA D-I programs to choose from, Wahlstrom credits the NTDP program for preparing him for what lies ahead and also bringing a once shy kid out of his shell.

“It’s probably the best decision I ever made coming here. Last year was probably one of the toughest years of my hockey career, to be honest. I face a lot of adversity,” he said. “We went through a lot last year, getting beat up by older guys. The NTDP here taught me how to fight through adversity, how to overcome that.

“This year, U-18 year, all of us can focus on playing in the USHL, beating those guys and getting that anger and stuff out from last year and bring it this year and accomplish greater things.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stars sign 41-goal scorer Jason Robertson to 4-year, $31M deal

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FRISCO, Texas — Jason Robertson signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp.

The Stars announced the deal after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at Nashville.

Robertson turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when the left wing had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. His 13 power-play goals led the team. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

“Jason is an integral part of the present and future of our team and we’re thrilled to have him for the next four years,” general manager Jim Nill said.

A second-round draft pick (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. The 6-foot-3 California native had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

“Since he was drafted by our organization, he has worked tirelessly to become a better player every day. His knack for scoring goals and seeing plays develop on the ice are just some of the tremendous assets that he brings to our team,” Nill said. “He is one of the best young players in the NHL, and we look forward to seeing him continue to progress.”

Robertson had the second-highest point total for a Stars rookie in 2020-21, when he had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in his 51 games.

Before the start of this season’s camp, new coach Pete DeBoer said he looked forward to coaching Robertson.

“Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here,” DeBoer said then. “So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Robertson will finally be there now.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.