TORONTO — Prior to the All-Star break, Patrick Roy said he wanted to see whether Oliver Wahlstrom was merely a good practice player or someone who could contribute to the lineup.
Heading into the Islanders’ first game back from the break, it appears that Roy saw enough to keep giving Wahlstrom a shot.
Not only did the Islanders waive Julien Gauthier ahead of Wahlstrom when they needed to cut someone from the roster, but based on Sunday’s practice, at which he skated on the third line with Simon Holmstrom and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, it looks like Wahlstrom will be in again when the team resumes its season on Monday night against the Maple Leafs.
“I have time for him,” Roy told reporters following Sunday’s practice. “I’m curious to see what is his ceiling, where he is. We’re gonna do a lot of one-on-one work because I think he’s a very good hockey player, but he needs to be more involved physically.
“And what I mean by physically, I don’t need him to kill guys over the boards and stuff like this. More involved physically is when he received a body check, I want him to move his feet and get out of that one-on-one situation and beat the guy to the net. I want him to drive that more on the rush.”
If Wahlstrom can become an everyday part of the lineup under Roy’s tutelage, it would be something of a lifeline to his Islanders career.
After failing to capitalize on his potential under Barry Trotz and falling out of favor under Lane Lambert, becoming a healthy scratch in all but 23 games this season, it looked as though a change of scenery might be necessary for Wahlstrom.
The 23-year-old signed a one-year deal last offseason and, though the Islanders will retain his rights this summer via restricted free agency, it would be no surprise if they let him walk.
With the trade deadline looming on March 8, Wahlstrom also looked like an expendable piece.
That may still happen. He has only played one game for Roy after all. But the equation changes if the new head coach believes there is something worth salvaging in Wahlstrom on Long Island.
“Talking to Lou [Lamoriello] and other people, before his [knee] injury [in December 2022], he was playing very well for this team,” Roy said. “I’d love to give him a chance to be back to where he was and I think he deserves that.”
Hudson Fasching (lower body) remains day-to-day.
Assistant coach Benoit Desrosiers was on the ice for practice Sunday after being hired over the All-Star break. Roy said Desrosiers will work on faceoffs and help with the penalty kill.