EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — With a first-line spot on the left wing up for grabs and a third-line spot on the right wing for the taking, Oliver Wahlstrom spent Tuesday’s Islanders practice as the extra skater rotating in during drills without a set spot.
Julien Gauthier, who was acquired from the Ottawa Senators over the summer, spent the morning working with Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat on that first line as a stand-in while Simon Holmstrom awaits his re-call from the AHL club in Bridgeport — a move that was made to help facilitate the placement of Ross Johnston on waivers Monday.
As it stands, it looks like Holmstrom will get that first-line spot. Gauthier has been versatile enough that he’s spent time on the top three lines and the power-play and seems entrenched in a battle for minutes with Hudson Fasching on the third line.
It makes Wahlstrom, who spent considerable time working after practice on Tuesday — which is something extra skaters who don’t play normally tend to do — appear to be the odd man out despite making the 23-man roster, which was officially announced on Monday.
“He’s working to get himself up to speed,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said in an attempt to provide some clarity. “This is just a guy putting in extra time for him.”
But it’s been a slow preseason for Wahlstrom, who has struggled to find his footing after returning from an Achilles injury that ended his 2022-23 season in December and kept him off the ice in any kind of capacity for seven months.
Such a start should be expected, especially considering the team’s preseason opener at the end of last month was the first game-action he experienced in approximately 10 months. Lambert, though, teased that there’s another step for the 23-year-old to take with Gauthier and Holmstrom battling for playing time this season.
“He’s been very astute on certain things that he has to do,” Lambert said. “It’s just a matter of there being competition for playing time. That’s all there is to it. And it’s a good thing. He’s in a competition with other guys. So we’ll see what happens.”
Wahlstrom’s ceiling is still deemed high. As he works his way back to 100%, he’s stressed a desire to become a power forward to supplement a plus shot that has the potential of fueling a perennial 25-plus goal scorer. It’s still just a matter of putting it all together.
“Clearly, he can shoot the puck,” Lambert said. “The fact that other teams know if they do take him away and a certain situation that he’s in, that opens up other areas. It turns it into a four-on-three on the other side so there’s certainly an ability to shoot.”