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.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET – NBC]

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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    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.