Lets start by saying absolutely no one should have any reason not to trust in Barry Trotz with his resume and as the reigning Jack Adams Award winner.
However, since Jordan Eberle’s unfortunate injury, Trotz has consistently rolled out Tom Kuhnhackl at right wing on the first line. Although Mathew Barzal has had four goals and six points over his last four games with Kuhnhackl beside him, his line could still use more firepower. It’s something Islanders fans have been craving for far too long. And though Kuhnhackl is a serviceable player, he’s not the guy for that role.
It may be a small sample size, and some may say it is too soon to trust a rookie with such a high volume of minutes, but Oliver Wahlstrom has proven in his three-game stint thus far that he can hang with the big boys. The Islanders don’t play again until Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes, so what better time to infuse Wahlstrom on to that first line at practice for the next four days.
Upon being drafted, Wahlstrom’s profile already read “elite shot”; he has shown that shot off quite a few times. Wahlstrom came inches away from scoring his first NHL goal Saturday night with a sizzler in the slot that beat Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. The chances being created by Wahlstrom himself are coming while he skates on a line with mainly Derick Brassard and Leo Komarov. So you could only imagine the type of chances he would get skating alongside Barzal and Anders Lee.
Wahlstrom is averaging about 13 minutes of ice time through his first three games and has posted 6 shots. The Islanders have lacked a player who has a shoot-first mindset. Placing Wahlstrom on the top line can only help the expected goals for and shot volume for the team overall. Because of his good hockey IQ, silky hands, sniper shot and lack of fear to be physical, Wahlstrom has first line player written all over his profile.
What happens when Eberle returns from his injured reserved stint which was just made retroactive to October 19? He most likely returns to his spot.
Eberle has proven his chemistry with Barzal and Lee and doesn’t deserve to lose his spot after just five games played. Michael Dal Colle can slide down to the third line, as he’ll have to do a lot more to prove he’s a top-six forward. This leaves Kuhnahckl exactly where he was before the Eberle injury — as a healthy scratch.
Wahlstrom wouldn’t be the only rookie on a first line when you look around the league. The Buffalo Sabres have put full trust in Victor Olofsson, or as they like to call him “Goalofsson”.
The addition of Olofsson has worked out quite well for their organization with him skating alongside Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. And even though Olofsson’s six goals are all on the power play, the increased ice time the Sabres are giving him, the more he is converting. It is a major reason as to why the Sabres sit at 7-1-1, are in first place in the Atlantic division, and have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL out of the gates. Wahlstrom can do the same thing for the Islanders. They are going to need an uptick in their offense sooner rather than later.
Despite the four game winning streak, the Islanders will not be able to sustain these wins unless Wahlstrom gets a heavier workload.