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Oliver Wahlstrom’s Islanders role unclear heading into summer

One of the big questions hanging over an Islanders depth chart that toward the end of last season felt too crowded in the bottom-six and a bit sparse in the top-six is which of those groups Oliver Wahlstrom ultimately occupies.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old right winger should be back in the fold next season after missing the season’s final four months with a left knee injury and, presumably, a new contract, as he hits restricted free agency this summer.

Given the rarity of offer sheets in the NHL, anything other than a return to the Islanders would amount to a shock, but the timing of Wahlstrom’s injury doubtless cost him money on the upcoming deal, and makes it a bit of a question as to where he fits on this team.

Over 35 games last season, Wahlstrom scored just seven goals while assisting nine.

He did put a more physical edge to his game on display, and looked more responsible with the puck than he’d been in the past — a recurring issue under Barry Trotz — but the headline to Wahlstrom’s game has always been his shot and scoring acumen.

Islanders right wing Oliver Wahlstrom (26) takes a shot
for the NY POST

So seven goals in 35 games after a poor second half in 2021-22 is something to worry about.

“I’m gonna do everything I can to set myself up for success next season,” Wahlstrom said on breakup day, his first time speaking to reporters since getting hurt in December. “See how it goes, but I’m gonna do everything I can to get healthy. I’m 22 and I’ve been working out for the last five months. I should be ready to go.”

Wahlstrom said he expects to be ready for training camp, and wanted to be back on the ice within a couple weeks of breakup day. 

He admitted that the injury was a hard thing to go through, and for the first few weeks his sister took care of him around the clock.

Wahlstrom also leaned on Isles captain Anders Lee, who suffered an ACL tear in 2021, for help in his rehab. And it helped that he’d gotten a new puppy in September.

“I guess the timing was good. I spent every second with that guy teaching him tricks,” Wahlstrom said. “My mind was away from the game. Now I’m starting to ramp up and it’s exciting.”

Because it’s unclear whether Pierre Engvall, Zach Parise and Josh Bailey will be back next season, it’s also unclear where Wahlstrom will slot into the depth chart at the start of training camp.

Just as important, it’s unclear where Wahlstrom fits.

If Engvall, an unrestricted free agent, leaves without the Islanders bringing in a replacement, then it figures that Wahlstrom would have a chance in the top-six.

Alexandre Carrier #45 of the Nashville Predators and Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders battle
NHLI via Getty Images

If not, then it’s more of an open question.

Either way, the Islanders will want to see Wahlstrom develop into more of a weapon as a power forward, the scoring aspect very much included. 

“I’m a big guy, I think I’m going to put a little bit more muscle on this summer. I think that’s where my game needs to trend,” Wahlstrom said. “Obviously I have the skill and the skill’s still there. I have a lot of fun and kinda create a little havoc. I think I stay in games more when I’m like that.”

Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders skates
NHLI via Getty Images

That makes this summer a pivotal one for him.

“Oh dude, my summer started in December,” he said. “I’m super excited to skate, it’s gonna be awesome. Like I said, I’m 22 years old, I already put on a bunch of muscle. I’m super excited to get going with the boys again next season. I’m gonna do everything I can [this] summer, I know I’m gonna do everything I can for training camp.”