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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.

The Buzzer: Vasilevskiy endures 58 shots, still wins; Hellebuyck gets first shutout

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Three stars

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy will still be stopping pucks when he goes to sleep tonight.

The Washington Capitals fired 58 shots in the direction of the young Russian superstar netminder. He stopped 54, which was enough (and more than should have been required) in a 5-4 overtime win.

Vasilevskiy is well on his way to winning the Vezina this season, and Wednesday was just another brilliant performance in what’s been a season full of them.

2. Loui Eriksson, Vancouver Canucks

To be fair, Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson or Alex Edler could be here, too. But Eriksson’s the one with the four-point night. The other three each had three-point nights, so let’s give it to Loui.

The Canucks had a 5-0 lead in the third period before the Ottawa Senators scored four unanswered to claw their way back into the game. Eriksson provided an assist on Horvat’s 6-4 goal and then scored the 7-4 marker to put the game out of reach.

Eriksson’s season isn’t much to write home about, but he had a solid night on Wednesday.

3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

A Vezina runner up last season, Hellebuyck’s season hasn’t mirrored that this time around. He’s been solid lately, despite a tough start to the year, and getting his first shutout of the season is a monkey off his back.

Resting Hellebuyck is something the Jets are doing in the last couple of weeks here. He didn’t play Monday and won’t play against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, either, with the Jets electing to save him for a pivotal matchup against the Nashville Predators in Winnipeg on Saturday night.

Highlights of the night

This passing is unfair:

One-hopper to perfection:

Pretty tip on this one:

Don’t give Victor Hedman all day:

Factoids

Scores

Maple Leafs 4, Sabres 2
Lightning 5, Capitals 4 (OT)
Canucks 7, Senators 4
Jets 3, Ducks 0


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jets’ Hellebuyck earns first shutout of the season vs. Ducks

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The Winnipeg Jets have fallen victim of the bad-team bug a few times this season.

They lost twice to the Ottawa Senators inside one week earlier this year, twice to the Colorado Avalanche in the same time frame and once to the Arizona Coyotes, who weren’t quite yet on the run they’re now in February.

So coming into this road trip late in the season, where they’d play the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks in two of the three games, there was a reason to be worried they’d get caught in the trap.

The good news for the team is that hasn’t been the case this time out. They beat Los Angeles on Monday and put together a 3-0 win against the Ducks on NBCSN on Wednesday Night Hockey for their fourth straight win after a 29-save shutout from Connor Hellebuyck, his first of the season.

Winnipeg is now three points up on the second-place Nashville Predators with a game in hand and a big meeting with their rivals on Saturday back in Winnipeg — a game that could decide the division if Winnipeg can get the win.

First, however, they’ll have to play the streaking Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night in Sin City. For the most part, they didn’t expend too much energy in their Wednesday win, so there should still be some gas left in the tank.

Hellebuyck’s is unlikely to start against Vegas, with the Jets looking like they’ll rest their No. 1 for Saturday’s pivotal big game against the Predators, but he had a relatively easy night. Laurent Brossoit, Winnipeg’s’ exceptional backup, should get the call.

Winnipeg’s defense has been decimated down the stretch, with no Dustin Byfuglien, no Josh Morrissey and now no Nathan Beaulieu, a trade deadline acquisition that was thrust into a top-pairing role. Beaulieu missed the game because of an undisclosed injury, making an already thin blue line that much thinner.

Given all their injuries on the back end, the shutout performance by the team is remarkable, even against the Ducks. Winnipeg is slated to get Big Buff and Morrissey back in time for the playoffs, which is critical if they’re to make a deep run once again.

Kyle Connor has a goal and an assist for the second straight game for the Jets. The sophomore has 12 points in his past 14 games.

The Ducks, who came into the game winners of six of their past night, seemed more interested in pestering the Jets rather than playing hockey against them. They didn’t give up six first period goals this time around, or lose 9-3. So that was an improvement over their last meeting.

Like many nights this season, this wasn’t Anaheim’s. If nothing else, the loss helps their lottery chances. All the winning they’ve been doing lately hasn’t helped, however.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canucks’ Pettersson sets franchise rookie record for points

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Elias Pettersson has been a revelation in Vancouver this season, a source of hope for long-suffering Canucks fans who haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years.

Petterson notched an assist on Markus Granlund‘s second-period goal and that moved him past the great Pavel Bure for the team’s rookie points record with his 61st point in what will likely end in a Calder-winning season for the young rookie.

Pettersson added another assist later in the period. He’ll surely extend that record before seasons’ end. He’s currently on 27 goals and 63 points in 63 games. He’d likely be closer to 80 at this point if not for an ugly hit early on in the season and another injury right after the New Year.

Pettersson is the player the Canucks are going to build around at the moment, and they have some solid young talent already around him with the likes of Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and others.

Vancouver could be a scary team in a few years, and Pettersson will be leading that charge.

For now, they have one of the NHL’s brightest young players who should bring back a shiny piece of hardware to British Columbia come June.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Lightning survive barrage, strike down Capitals in overtime

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It was going to take a Herculean effort from the Washington Capitals to somehow beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second half of a back to back. And man, did they ever deliver one.

But even that wasn’t enough to beat the insanely good Lightning, who recovered from 56 shots against in regulation and a game-tying goal with 57 seconds left in the third period to find a way to their sixth straight win.

The game-winner came courtesy of a Victor Hedman deke. It was pretty.

Tampa is now just five wins away from matching the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most victories in the regular season at 62. Given that the Lightning at 18-2-0 in their past 20 games, it’s completely acceptable to believe they can do this. With the Presidents’ Trophy already sewn up, the Lightning have eight games now to find five wins — six if they want the record all to themselves.

I’d bet the house on it. Both matching it and surpassing it.

It was a heartbreaking loss for the Capitals, who still managed to pick up a point to increase their lead in the Metropolitan Division to three points on the New York Islanders.

That Herculean effort included a total of 58 shots fired at Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was his usual, totally unfair self in this one. In typical Vasilevskiy fashion, he made easy saves look easy and hard saves look much the same. And he set a franchise record doing it, with his 54 saves the most in a game, surpassing the 48 Ben Bishop made back in 2014.

The game was also a clinic in why special teams matter so much.

When you’re given six power-play opportunities against the far-and-away best team in the NHL — on the second half of a back to back to boot — you need to take advantage.

The Capitals couldn’t, going just 1-for-6 in the game while the Lightning were a perfect 3-for-3, typical of the team with the best man-advantage in the league.

Nikita Kucherov scored twice in the game and Steven Stamkos had a goal while adding assists on each of Kucherov’s markers, which both came on the power play.

After taking a 1-0 lead in the first period, the Lightning scored three unanswered before Carl Hagelin stopped the bleeding. That goal was quickly followed up by T.J. Oshie‘s 22nd of the season to tie the game back up.

The deadlock lasted all of 1:21 thanks to a passing play that was equal parts filthy and beautiful.

The Capitals rested Braden Holtby in their Tuesday win against the Devils. Holtby’s effort could have been better after allowing five goals on 28 shots.

Another seven-game series between these two would be good fun.

More things Tampa did tonight:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck