EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Oliver Wahlstrom gave it the old college try, but with each passing day it became clear: The 19-year-old New York Islanders forward prospect just wants to play hockey.
Selected by New York with the No. 11 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Wahlstrom won’t return for his sophomore season with Boston College after he turned pro by signing a three-year, entry-level contract March 28. He will attend Islanders training camp in September and either play for them or for Bridgeport of the American Hockey League.
“I want to come to the rink every day,” Wahlstrom said during Islanders development camp in June. “I didn’t want to sit behind a desk and write essays. It was good for me to learn, but I want to be dialed in on hockey. I want to play and play a lot.”
Wahlstrom had 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 36 games for Boston College and four points (two goals, two assists) in seven games for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship before heading to Bridgeport last season. He made his AHL debut April 2 and had three points (two goals, one assist) in five regular-season games before he scored two goals and had two assists in a five-game series loss to Hershey.
“It was just different. College lifestyle is a little different,” Wahlstrom said. “You play two games, Friday, Saturday, and you have the whole week off. That’s a little challenging for me. I had a lot of ups and downs, but I can just learn from that.
“The first half was a little tough, but it was a good learning experience for me. As a hockey player, you go through adversity and I learned a lot from it. But obviously, I was fortunate to play in Bridgeport and it was fun. I learned a lot.”
Wahlstrom (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) found chemistry in Bridgeport playing on a line with Kieffer Bellows, who was selected by the Islanders with the No. 19 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Bellows had two goals and one assist during the five-game series.
“He brought what he shows: his shot,” Bellows said of Wahlstrom. “That kid can shoot the puck, and he’s awesome. Watching him play, he screams confidence. Not just a great player, but a great guy off the ice. All the guys loved him.”
Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson was also impressed with Wahlstrom.
“He came in and worked extremely hard and fit into the group right away,” Thompson said. “It was just nice to have that piece moving into the playoffs, and he was great for us. The key was he worked extremely hard.”
Wahlstrom said he paid attention when he could to the Islanders, who finished second in the Metropolitan Division and reached the Eastern Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“It was fun to see what they have,” Wahlstrom said. “I’ve got to work hard and hopefully someday I’ll play for them.”
Wahlstrom said he will work on his skating in preparation for training camp, which will provide him an opportunity to make an impact and perhaps, a chance to earn a roster spot.
“I want to be a pro,” he said. “I want to take that next step.”