NHL on NBC: Wahlstrom could give Islanders another much-needed weapon

NBC’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders. Islanders-Sabres stream coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Different people will have different reactions when they scroll the Islanders’ roster, or their Cap Friendly page. Your mileage will probably vary regarding how shrewd it seems to have so much term locked up in key players on the older side, such as Anders Lee (30), Brock Nelson (29), Jordan Eberle (30), and Josh Bailey (31).

Even bold semi-new acquisition Jean-Gabriel Pageau is no spring chicken at 28 (signed through 2025-26, like Lee).

Again, reactions will vary to such a structure. Plenty of people will — reasonably — point out that plenty of teams invest in proven veterans.

Either way, most would also agree that, aside from Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, the Islanders aren’t exactly swimming in players who are just starting to peak. With that in mind, the Islanders must be absolutely delighted to see a recent surge from 20-year-old Oliver Wahlstrom, the 11th pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.


Then again, when Oliver Wahlstrom can do something like this as a kid, maybe we should have seen this coming?

All kidding aside, it hasn’t been a totally smooth ride for Wahlstrom. As this great article from Arthur Staple of The Athletic (sub required) points out, Wahlstrom’s stumbled here and there in his development. As modest as his drop-off was during that 2018 NHL Draft, Staple points to scouts who had some concerns about his fitness.

With just 25 NHL games to his name (including 16 this season), it’s far too early to claim that Wahlstrom has arrived for the Islanders. Considering his coach is Barry Trotz, a return to the doghouse may be inevitable.

But don’t blame the Islanders for being excited, especially for a farm system that isn’t necessarily teeming with highly-touted prospects.

Islanders seem excited about Wahlstrom’s progress

In 2019-20, Oliver Wahlstrom failed to score a single point in nine games with the Islanders. During his time at other levels, he didn’t light scoreboards on fire, either.

So, again, a recent flourish is welcomed. Overall this season, Wahlstrom scored four goals and four assists for eight points in 16 games. It’s a recent stretch that’s especially promising, however.

Heading into Thursday’s eventual Islanders win against the Sabres, Wahlstrom scored six points (3G, 3A) in a five-game point streak. While that run ended on Thursday, Wahlstrom logged 16:15 time on ice, easily the largest workload of his NHL career.

Since he finally started cracking the Islanders lineup, Wahlstrom’s spent almost all of his ice time with J-G Pageau. Trotz putting Wahlstrom with Pageau, a two-way center, is quite the showing of confidence. And it sounds like this approach is helping Wahlstrom’s all-around game to blossom.

“I’ve just kind of fallen in love with the details in my game,” Wahlstrom said on Tuesday, via Staple. “It’s bringing more enjoyment to my game. I’m thinking less about production, just focusing on the details.”

Trotz called such statements “music to his ears.” It’s all clearly what the Islanders wanted to hear from Wahlstrom.

There might be bumps in the road

Overall, Wahlstrom’s development is very promising for the Islanders. (You can say similar things about Noah Dobson, whom the Islanders drafted one pick later than Wahlstrom in 2018.)

But, again, it wouldn’t be shocking if his relationship ebbs and flows with Trotz.

While the sample sizes are very small, it’s interesting that certain underlying stats don’t look that different from this season to the last.

Consider Wahlstrom’s RAPM stats, via Evolving Hockey, from 2019-20:

Oliver Wahlstrom RAPM Evolving Hockey 2019-20
via Evolving Hockey

And then ponder his fairly similar underlying stats from this season:

Oliver Wahlstrom RAPM Evolving Hockey 2020-21
via Evolving Hockey

Don’t take this as too heavy of a wet blanket.

It might point to the possibility that even a defense-obsessed coach like Barry Trotz can still get lured in by a scoring tear. If (when?) Wahlstrom hits a cold streak, might Trotz cool on him a bit?

(The young forward’s ice time has generally still been pretty modest.)

That’s a worry for another day. And, really, if Wahlstrom can keep Trotz happy enough, he could provide this sort of game-breaking ability for the Islanders:

And, really, can you blame Trotz for evoking Alex Ovechkin‘s name after seeing a goal like this?

During the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Islanders were a scary opponent. Just imagine if Wahlstrom can ease some of the scoring burden Mathew Barzal carries, and the Islanders maintain their skin-tight system of defense?

That would be music to more than just Barry Trotz’s ears.

NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America, presented by Discover®this Sunday with an NHL quadrupleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S. The day is a highlight of NBC Sports’ NHL coverage in March, which includes 30 games over 30 nights.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Blue Jackets acquire D Damon Severson from Devils after he signs 8-year deal

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils on Friday after the veteran defenseman and soon-to-be free agent signed an eight-year $50 million contract.

    Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sent a third-round pick, 80th overall, in this month’s draft to the Devils for Severson, who will be under contract through the 2030-31 NHL season.

    Severson had 58 goals and 205 assists in 647 career appearances with the Devils since making his NHL debut in 2014-15. He scored seven game-winning goals and averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time during his nine seasons. The 28-year-old had seven goals and 26 assists this season, including two game-winning goals, in 81 games.

    “Damon is a versatile defenseman who has great vision, moves the puck extremely well, has good size and can play heavy minutes at both ends of the ice,” Kekalainen said.

    The Canadian was selected in the second round in the 2012 draft. He has collected 30 or more points five times in his career and twice notched 11 or more goals. He played in every game in three straight seasons from 2018-21 and has played 80 or more contests four times in his career.

    With the addition of the third-round pick, New Jersey now has six selections in the draft, including its own picks in rounds two, four, five, six and seven.

    Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

    James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

    Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

    The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

    Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

    The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

    “I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

    Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

    Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

    At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

    “You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

    Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

    “He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

    Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

    The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

    Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

    “It was fine,” he quipped.

    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.