College isn't for everyone. It’s not a bad thing, and it certainly hasn’t deterred right winger Oliver Wahlstrom from having early success in his pro career. Wahlstrom, the Islanders’ first-round pick in 2018, played for Boston College last season but left after his freshman campaign to sign an entry-level deal with New York. “I gave college a shot,” Wahlstrom said. “I enjoyed the social aspect, but it was tough not playing Sunday to Thursday. It was tough on the body and tough for me. It was a hard decision leaving my buddies, but it was the best for me to play pro hockey.”
Wahlstrom caught on with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers after leaving the NCAA, and he found immediate success with seven points in 10 games, including the playoffs. While many hockey insiders believe the jump from junior or college to the AHL is harder than going from AHL to NHL, that was not the case for Wahlstrom. “The pro-style game is different,” Wahlstrom said. “They work smarter. I found how I could play there and got back to my normal self. There was more ice, more time and space because guys were working smarter. I came in and we had awesome leaders that I looked up to, and the coaching staff was awesome. They said, ‘Just play and have fun.’ I learned a lot. It was fun.”
Wahlstrom is back with the Sound Tigers this year and was once again putting up points. He also made his NHL debut with the Islanders, skating the traditional solo lap before the game. An excellent sniper who has produced offense throughout his young career, he has the type of high-end skill all teams crave. As he winds his way through the AHL, his game will round out.
And while he’s in the minors, Wahlstrom is still eligible to play at the world juniors. He has suited up for Team USA many times, and he’d love to upgrade last year’s silver medal to a gold. “The returnees have to find a way to lead the younger guys,” he said. “We have unbelievable players, so it will be exciting to see what we can do.” – Ryan Kennedy