Before you watch the Islanders take on the Capitals tonight, I’d like you to check the lines the Isles will ice. Then I’d like you to see the reaction on social media. Why you say? Because it’s one of those elements of following a team that leads to thought and intrigue. Now, if you don’t see Oliver Wahlstrom’s name among the forward group, fear not. He’s dealing with the same thing every young player — unless you’re a Crosby, Ovechkin or McDavid when they first entered the league — goes through.
Ah yes, the term fans probably wouldn’t like to hear especially after Wahlstrom’s torrid March that got him some talk in the Calder Trophy conversation. It’s here though and he is in the thick of it now.
The 20-year-old was scratched on Tuesday night against the Rangers, his third time not being in the lineup dating back to April 8th. The first two scratches came as a result of Wahlstrom being banged up, but he was already showing signs of struggling. Wahlstrom hasn’t recorded a point in nine games, his power play time and space had decreased by a good margin, and was also called out by head coach Barry Trotz for his drop in performance.
“We got some guys that didn’t want to accept the challenge,” Trotz said after the Isles’ 4-1 loss to Boston last Thursday.
Wahlstrom was a -2 in that game with only two shots. It’s hard not to imagine some of Trotz’s words weren’t pointed at him among several others.
Look the timing isn’t ideal, with the Islanders still fighting for the East Division top spot, but these are the experiences Wahlstrom will learn from that will only make him into a better pro. Sure it would benefit him more to be playing at this type of the year where the intensity is revved up to another notch. Then again he watching from the press box will show him where his mind and game need to be at to succeed, or as Trotz referred to it as the “grind”.
There’s still ten games left in the regular season before the postseason begins, so there’s still time for Wahlstrom to rediscover that spark.
Now another player who has been in a similar situation of late is Noah Dobson.
Although this is his second full season in the league, the Summerside, PE native has now felt the wrath of going through a rough stretch. Dobson was taken out of the lineup for the first time all season — outside his stint in COVID protocol last month — because of it this past Sunday in Philadelphia. He was replaced by newcomer Braydon Coburn.
The fact it was just one game — Dobson was right back in the lineup on Tuesday against the Rangers — doesn’t take away from the overall picture. Meaning it’s a moment in Dobson’s short career that probably occurred past it’s due date. The 21-year-old probably should have experienced the natural progression of this phase last year, but he was sheltered and by the time he was a true regular in the lineup, he was holding his own.
Time will tell how long the growing pains will last for Dobson, whether they continue the rest of the season and into the playoffs or just as a small stop gap. As the future cornerstone of the Isles’ defense, however it plays out can only make him better and more mentally equipped to be as good as he’s capable of being. Dobson is that good. And keep this in mind down the line: all the elite d-men at the point Dobson currently sits in his career dealt with the same struggles. Now look at where they are.
Wahlstrom and Dobson are two kids that the Islanders have big hopes for moving forward. To see them go through the growing pains stage is necessary for them to grow and evolve into true NHLers.
They will come out of it better, as will the the organization.
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