After an admittedly tough year in college, Oliver Wahlstrom is optimistic about turning pro next season, especially after a strong 10-game audition with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to end the year.
Wahlstrom, the Islanders' 2018 first-round pick (11th overall) recorded seven points (4G, 3A) in 10 games with the Sound Tigers, spanning the end of the regular season and a five-game series against the Hershey Bears. He's looking forward to becoming a full-time pro next season.
"The pro style is fun and I enjoyed it," Wahlstrom said. "I learned a lot and it's a great group of guys we had there and a great coaching staff. I just felt like myself again."
Feeling like himself was a big step for Wahlstrom, who never quite jived with the student-athlete lifestyle, or the college hockey schedule at Boston College. Moving on from college after one year was as much about playing more games as it was writing fewer papers.
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"I gave college a shot, but you know, college isn't for everyone. I was very fortunate to go to BC, but it wasn't for me," Wahlstrom said.
Wahlstrom battled some adversity in his year at school. After recording 94 points (48G, 46A) in 62 games with the US National U-18 Team in 2017-18, Wahlstrom recorded 19 points (8G, 11A) in 36 games with Boston College. He got off to a slow start, with five points (3G, 2A) in his first 14 games with the Eagles, unfamiliar territory for such a prolific scorer.
"All players go through it. I'll be honest, it was brutal, I had a tough year," Wahlstrom said. "How I got through it was that I had a lot of good people around me. I tried focusing on little things more, think less, just play and I learned a lot about who I was and what I can be. It was a good learning experience."
A trip to the World Juniors put Wahlstrom back on the right track. He recorded four points (2G, 2A) in seven games, capturing a silver medal in the process, though it's hard to not wonder what could have been had Wahlstrom's opening goal not been called back in the final game.
After returning to BC, Wahlstrom started to find some consistent offense, recording 14 points (5G, 9A) in the final 22 games of the Eagles' season. His best stretch came from Jan. 26 - Feb. 4, when he pieced together five points (2G, 3A) in three games.
When BC's season ended, Wahlstrom got a taste of the professional life with the Sound Tigers, signing a three-year, entry-level contract on March 28 and making his debut on April 2. He recorded three points (2G, 1A) in five regular season games and co-led the Sound Tigers in playoff scoring, with four points (2G, 2A) in Bridgeport's five-game series, playing on a line with fellow rookies Kieffer Bellows and Otto Koivula.
Wahlstrom and Bellows, the Isles' 2016 first-round pick, both said they felt a chemistry developing between them, an exciting prospect for next season.
"We both found a groove and a chemistry for one another," Bellows said. "We both think like a shooter, but we can both also distribute the puck out to one another and knowing where a shooter wants to be is huge when you're playing with a shooter. That's what we both can see."
Bellows' path mirrors that of Wahlstrom. Bellows, also a product of the USNTDP, left Boston University after one season to go play for WHL Portland, citing the opportunity to play more games in the junior ranks. Unlike Bellows, Wahlstrom can play in Bridgeport as a 19-year-old since he was drafted out of the US amateur field and not the Canadian junior leagues.
"Wally and I have been through the same stuff," Bellows said. "Just going through different leagues and everything, but we're both here right now and we're both supportive of each other."
Bellows, who sits two stalls down from Wahlstrom at development camp, raved about Wahlstrom's ability as a player from their brief time together in Bridgeport.
"One word, confidence," Bellows said. "That kid just screams it. He's got that powerful shot, but his all-around game. He knows what he can do and he knows he's good at it and I think that's awesome, I love to see that out of a player."
That confidence seems to have returned to Wahlstrom's game and he's feeling good at his second development camp. It's a more familiar environment, between the coaches, systems and expectations.
Sound Tigers Head Coach Brent Thompson and his staff are running the on-ice sessions week, so it's a chance for Wahlstrom to get specific guidelines for the remainder of his summer. The year may have been tougher than expected for Wahlstrom, but he's excited for what's ahead.
"I have to work on everything in my game, but I was very fortunate to play in Bridgeport for a couple games and have a good start there," he said. "I'm just going to put my head down and work."