He may no longer have to lug around bulky textbooks, spend hours researching for tedious essays, or have to squeeze in time in between practices and workouts to study for multiple courses, but in many ways, Oliver Wahlstrom is still a student. The Isles 19-year-old prospect only halted his pursuit towards a bachelor's degree to follow his dream of becoming a full-time pupil of hockey.
Now, after surviving the second of cuts at his first Islanders Training Camp; Wahlstrom is continuing to complete his homework, take diligent notes, collaborate with his knowledgeable peers and put his best foot forward in what essentially amounts to a practical exam.
"This is what I want to do," Wahlstrom said. "To me, [playing hockey] is what I love to do. I'm a young guy. I just want to keep working hard and taking in everything that I can. I'm asking questions. It's been a really cool experience to learn from these guys and take things in. I'm just trying to have fun and work hard, but it's been great so far."
Wahlstrom has suited up for three preseason games, against Philadelphia, Detroit and New York. The prolific goal scorer had a chance to play in a top-six role, first on the wing of Mathew Barzal and Derick Brassard, and most-recently beside Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier, where he registered an assist. The coaching staff has also experimented with slotting him in on the power play and during overtime.
While Wahlstrom stands at 6-foot-2, 209-pounds and overall has looked comfortable in game action, he is still absorbing the experience of his first pro camp. There's a lot to take in during practices, workouts, video sessions and locker room chats to grasp an understanding of the top-tier day-to-day routines. As three on-ice groups condensed into two, Wahlstrom was seated in Barzal's regular season stall where he carefully examined his surroundings and reflected upon his experience thus far.
"My first time in the locker room just seeing [Matt] Martin and seeing some of the other [veteran] guys was cool," Wahlstrom said with a grin. "It's really humbling just to be in the same room as those guys and have the opportunity to learn from those guys. I try to take things in, I think that's the most important thing for me as a young guy is just taking things in and trying to get to know them a little bit too."
During his freshman season at Boston College, Wahlstrom put up 19 points (8G, 11A) in 36 games. It was a significant drop-off for the innate goal-scorer in comparison to his 94-point (48G, 46A) showing in 62 games the season prior with the US National U-18 Team.
Wahlstrom sought to regain his confidence and by doing what he does best; playing hockey. So, the Isles' 2018 first-round pick (11th overall) closed the book on his amateur career and made the decision to turn full-time pro. The right winger joined Bridgeport this past spring as the Sound Tigers wrapped-up their regular season and qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2016. Wahlstrom had seven points (4G, 3A), including one power-play goal, in his first 10 professional games (regular season and playoffs).
"From a year ago [to now], I'm more dialed in," Wahlstrom said. "I'm more focused. Obviously, I'm a pro now. I've got to take care of myself like a pro. In the offseason I worked really hard. I worked on my foot speed and my shot. I have a lot of good people around me. I've just got to keep going and keep working hard."
Wahlstrom knew he had a big summer of training ahead of him and ensured he'd make the most of it. After attending Isles Development Camp in June, he jetted off to Sweden, where his father Joakim is from, to train alongside the likes of other NHLers, including Henrik Lundqvist. Wahlstrom returned stateside and spent two weeks training at altitude out in Vail, Colorado and Denver, where he also crossed paths with Scott Mayfield.
"It's really fun to read from [NHL] guys and see how they play," Wahlstrom said. "I mean I watch all of those on TV all the time. I'm trying to learn from them and take things from them, but also use my style of play to create some chances and play my game."
The Quincy, Mass. native is also dating the daughter of former Islander Pierre Turgeon, who played 19 seasons in the NHL and registered a remarkable 1,327 points. Turgeon, who lives in Colorado, shared some insight as the budding winger neared his departure back to New York.
"[Turgeon] had obviously been through the ropes after 19 seasons. That was definitely a good person to lean on before I came out here," Wahlstrom said.
Wahlstrom's work over the summer did not go unnoticed by the Islanders brass.
"With Oliver the first thing you see is the hands and the release and the shot and the size and all that… the biggest difference I see is that he's moving his feet," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "He's not waiting for the puck, he's helping in the support area of the game, be it offensively and defensively. In juniors you rely so much on your hands that you don't move your feet, but he's moving his feet much better, he looks so much stronger and when he gets the puck he knows what to do with it. Some guys have a hard time processing that, but he doesn't."
The Islanders are 3-1-0 so far in their preseason contests. After dropping a late 4-3 decision to New Jersey on Saturday night, Trotz noted the coaching staff and management would wait at least until after Monday's game against Detroit before making another round of roster cuts.
"We just want to see if they're retaining some of the stuff," Trotz said of Wahlstrom and the young players progressing at camp. "The first game it's one speed. Now, it's getting cranked up. If their game is still translating as it's getting cranked up and cranked up here and keeps translating then, that's what you want to see. If it doesn't translate anymore then you might have to fish and cut bait a little while until they are able to do it a little bit later. These are important games for these young guys. They're obviously trying to make the hockey team and all of that, but also for their development. Can their game translate anymore? If it doesn't that's a great teaching moment. If it does, it's still another great teaching moment. If it doesn't keep translating then that's a red flag for the coaching staff, but I haven't seen that at this point."
It's good news for a young player like Wahlstrom, but as the roster gets smaller, the stakes are that much higher. And for an eager student like Wahlstrom, every day at camp offers another chance to learn.