Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk celebrates his second-period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Graziano: Odd Couple Leads Islanders To Raucous Win

Boychuk And Wahlstrom Make Unique Duo In Victory Over Blues

Andy Graziano
October 15, 2019 - 12:59 pm

‘Can a 36-year-old grinding defenseman and a 19-year-old exuberant rookie share a locker room without driving each other crazy?’

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That might as well be the cold open for the next New York Islanders broadcast Thursday night when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the Jets. Fresh off two home wins over the weekend, a shootout victory over Florida and Monday afternoon’s improbable comeback against the defending Stanley Cup champions, you can bet Johnny Boychuk will be at his most boisterous, comical self in the dressing room.

With Noah Dobson on the roster, you can assume head coach Barry Trotz will be wanting to monitor Boychuk’s minutes this season, as age and the grind of the NHL are starting to slow down the warrior. Monday, however, Boychuk turned back the clock against the Blues, making a tremendous diving keep at the blue line with under a minute to play, leading to Mathew Barzal’s first goal of the season, capping a two-goal comeback before Devon Toews nailed the overtime winner.

Courtesy of super-statistician Eric Hornick, Monday afternoon marked the first time in Islanders history they were scoreless through 54 minutes, trailing by two goals and rallied to win. And they did it against one of the league’s powerhouses who had dominated to that point. Boychuk played a role. Barzal did too. Thomas Greiss was superb. But, the spotlight from opening warmups was on #26. 

No, not Joshua Ho-Sang, who is still not traded and has still not reported to Bridgeport. We are talking about the 11th selection from the 2018 entry draft, Oliver Wahlstrom. Getting the call Monday morning and making his debut as Jordan Eberle sat out (lower body, day-to-day), the rookie logged 15:33 of ice time and did not look out of place one bit. Playing aggressively, but with controlled emotion, he showed off his tenacity and skill for a team that could certainly use it early in the 2019 campaign.

Islanders' first-round draft pick Oliver Wahlstrom poses with  with team representatives after being selected as the 11th overall pick.

Coming off a start to the season that could be considered ‘soft’ after a summer of inactivity left the team with the same scoring deficiencies they had last season, Wahlstrom provided a much-needed spark. 

“I was getting nervous; I didn’t want to lose in my first game, that wouldn’t be fun. Obviously, getting the win was pretty much the biggest thing ever.”, he told Newsday’s Neil Best postgame. He even got to share the moment with his father, who arrived early Monday morning from Georgia to see his son’s debut and helped the youngster pick out his tie. “I got a little emotional, so I had to leave, get out of there before he teared up,” Wahlstrom said. “But it’s really special to have him here.”

Trotz had nothing but praise for Wahlstrom’s first regular-season game in the NHL. “I thought he was really good, really effective. For his first game, he didn’t look out of place at all. He was physical, the speed of the game wasn’t an issue and got some opportunities, missed the net a couple of times. It was a good one.”

We’ve talked about analytics some and the fact that they are useful in some aspects, useless in others. You don’t measure what a Johnny Boychuk brings to the Islanders in Corsi or expected goals for %. Against the Blues, Wahlstrom was last on the team with a 5v5 Corsi of 40.7%. To the naked eye of fans and most importantly, the head coach, he was a gem. 

New York obviously needs what Wahlstrom can provide. Monday afternoon, they dressed Tom Kuhnhackl, Ross Johnston, Derick Brassard, who is struggling mightily, Leo Komarov and Michael Dal Colle, who can’t seem to get any offense generated with maximum effort. Even when Eberle and Casey Cizikas return, for a team that needs offense and didn’t add any, how can you justify playing any of the aforementioned over Wahlstrom?

He might not play like this every time out. There will be bumps and curves in his road to being a productive and consistent player. I say keep him here and let him learn it first hand. Contracts be damned, play your best and most talented players. Wahlstrom showed it in the pre-season and showed it again Monday.

Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyGraz_WFAN