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Nichols: Wahlstrom should see first-line minutes for the Islanders soon

Rookie Oliver Wahlstrom continues to impress with every shift he takes for the Islanders. He’s only collected two points in eight contests thus far, but the underlying numbers suggest he’ll see an uptick in production with more minutes.

That should come next to one guy — Mathew Barzal.

If defense is what worries head coach Barry Trotz, he should fear not. Barzal has transformed into one of the better 200-foot players on the Isles thanks in large part to Trotz’s coaching. And in the same breath, Wahlstrom has been impressive in his own end as well.

What stands out most about Wahlstrom is that he’s adapted to Trotz’s system while also staying true to his game. The 20-year old right-wing is a shoot-first sniper, whose shot was NHL-ready when the Isles selected him 11th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Now, you’re seeing that mentality, and it sure would compliment a playmaker like Barzal.

Through eight games, Wahlstrom has accrued 17 shots, one of which found the back of the net for his first NHL goal. That only totals to about 2.12 shots per game thus far. However, more recently, Wahlstrom has been getting more shots off helping his line create chances.

In his last five contests, Wahlstrom has thrown the puck on net more, with 15 shots on goal and totaled four shots on net in three of those five games. That averages to three shots per game, just behind Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle over that span.

Upon Anthony Beauvillier’s return from injury, Trotz did some line juggling on Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres. On one or two occasions, Wahlstrom was lined up next to Barzal and Lee. Despite not hitting the net, Barzal dropped a puck to Wahlstrom at the top of the circle. And as quick as it touched Wahlstrom’s stick, the puck was shot out of a cannon towards the net. This is just one of the many chances and scoring opportunities that can be.

Wahlstrom is exactly the kind of shooter that should be riding Barzal’s shotgun. Having him on the top line is the perfect storm with Lee battling in front of the net and Barzal creating his usual chaos for his defenders with the ability to feed a sniper-like Wahlstrom.

We’ve seen what young snipers like the Sabres’ Victor Olofsson can do when given a chance to play top-line minutes. Wahlstrom is cut from the same cloth. He appears on the brink of breaking out playing third-line minutes with Pageau. And as great as #44 is, he’s not quite the playmaker Barzal is.

It’s time to put Wahlstrom’s abilities to the test on the first-line. Beauvillier is the shooter on the third line, for now, so moving Josh Bailey to the right-wing makes sense.

The Islanders could use more goals, and Wahlstrom is a goal-scorer.

He just might be the goal-scorer Islander fans have all been waiting for.

 

Follow James on Twitter @JamesNicholsNYI

 

 

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