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Brewer: Wahlstrom has earned a larger role for the Isles

The Islanders have taken on the label of a “win now” team. The plethora of veteran players and more importantly, their contracts, have been the biggest contribution. Though the locker room has a mix of veterans, there are some very important pieces to the long-term future of the franchise.

Obviously Mathew Barzal has flourished into stardom, and he is still just 23-years-old. From that same draft, Anthony Beauvillier is on the squad and still looking to reach that first round pick expectation.

Like Barzal and Beauvillier, the most recent pair of first round selections in the 2018 NHL entry draft. Lou Lamoriello’s first real stamp on the organization’s roster was possessing consecutive picks in the first round. Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom were selected to begin the Lamoriello and Barry Trotz era.

Dobson had a full season with the big club and saw some important minutes both in the regular season and the playoffs in 2020.  The jump from last year to this year for Dobson has been noticeable. On the other hand, Wahlstrom saw minimal minutes and opportunities as a bottom-six forward in his nine-game stint. It is not the ideal situation for a player used to playing top line winger minutes.  His play was not electric but not terrible.

This offseason the Islanders were able to bring back most of a roster that was starving for offense. The thought at the time was that the team will improve with another year under Trotz and open a spot for a youngster to step up. Despite periods of excellence, the team overall has struggled again offensively.

Of late, Wahlstrom has had a chance to play in the lineup consistently. Although he has gotten a steady chance on the third line, the strides could be more advanced on a higher line with more skill.

Trotz switched up lines recently due to injuries and Michael Dal Colle was able to get a chance with Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle.  In a short period of time, we saw some of the best hockey from the former first-rounder.  With Beauvillier back and Dal Colle out of the lineup, the lines have shifted back to normal.

If Wahlstrom had the opportunity to use his skilled shot on a line with Barzal’s creativity and Beauvillier’s speed, it is likely that Wahlstrom could find more quality chances for goals kind of like the one he scored on Thursday night — a real goal some may add — in the team’s 7-2 rout of the Bruins.

“I think Wahlly has done a couple of things, Trotz said earlier this week. “His fitness level has gotten to the NHL level. His skating has improved. He’s moving his feet a lot more. His hands are undeniable NHL caliber. His detail in terms of the defensive part of the game has improved immensely.”

Wahlstrom seems destined to play on Barzal’s wing in the future. It would cause no harm to the coaching staff to give these two a shot even now.  The level that Barzal has reached will only speed up the development of Wahlstrom. Beauvillier could see a lot more of the scoresheet as well. In years past, he and Barzal had wicked chemistry.

It’s also no secret that when Beauvillier is scoring, the team is winning.

This was evident in last year’s playoffs.

Even if the line kept Lee on the opposite wing of Wahlstrom, that would provide the leadership and physicality to the chemistry.  My concern would be that Lee could not create the opportunities for Wahlstrom that Beauvillier’s speed would provide.

The emergence of this line would also add to the consistency of the power play, which has sprung to life in recent weeks.

If the changes effected the bottom line of winning, then things could seemlessly fall back into place and find success.

This is the benefit of having a veteran lineup that is ready to “win now”.

 

Follow Glen on Twitter at @gbrew34

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