Oliver Wahlstrom, US National Team Development Program (USHL)
Position: Center/Right Wing
Age on Draft Day: 18.04 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’1, 205 pounds
2017-2018 Stats (USHL Only): 26 GP, 22 G, 23 A, 22 PIM, +30
NHL Central Scouting: 7th (North American Skaters)
ISS Hockey: 5th
Bob McKenzie (TSN): 7th
HockeyProspect.com (March): 6th
Craig Button (TSN) (March): 9th
Most NHL draft prospects don’t become mainstream commodities until they are 17, maybe 16 years old. Oliver Wahlstrom first made a name for himself as a nine-year-old, when he became an internet sensation when his insane trick shot goal at TD Garden in Boston went viral. I bring this up as a fun fact that you might remember, but also to remind you that time is an enigmatic, crippling force that we are powerless in stopping.
Now, Wahlstrom is a grown teenager, and his skill on the puck has only gotten better. He has very quick hands, and can seamlessly pull his arms towards his body for the sake of making moves around players in tight spaces.
Skilled players with moves and vision like Wahlstrom’s are so often pass-first players. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matt Barzal are three good examples. Wahlstrom, while a tremendous passer himself, is actually a shoot-first player; very much so. Wahlstrom averaged 4.92 shots-per-game in the USHL this season, which was by far the biggest total. Here is some visual context, with data gathered via Prospect-Stats.com.
Wahlstrom shoots the puck for good reason; he has remarkable scoring ability. I called Svechnikov the best scorer in the draft, and Zadina the best shooter. I’d argue that Wahlstrom has the best release in the entire draft, though it’s fair to debate the nuance in all of that.
To my point, he absolutely whips shots on net from seemingly out of nowhere. He one-time’s pucks with efficiency, and even when a goaltender is set he can beat them from afar; an ability that is very uncommon at even the NHL level.
Though to a significantly lesser degree than with Hughes, I also question if Wahlstrom is going to get ignorantly painted as a liability off the puck. Regardless, he is not one. In my viewings of Wahlstrom both at the USHL as well as international level, he was a meticulous defensive player. He’s very engaged on the forecheck and leans heavily on timely stick lifts to create takeaways. He played on the National Development team’s top penalty kill unit and displayed a knack for getting sticks on pucks and forcing turnovers. It doesn’t hurt that he has the ability to transition that into shorthanded transition rushes, either.
Are there some issues with his coverages in the defensive zone? Yes. Nothing significant, though, and nothing that can’t be solved with some time in the film room and on the ice. He has a strong appetite for learning and improving.
The bigger concern with Wahlstrom should be how much his production has actually been driven by him. According to Canucks’ Army, based on SEAL (situation-era-age-league) adjusted scoring, Wahlstrom’s scoring ranks third-best in the draft; only Andrei Svechnikov and Rasmus Dahlin are ahead of him. Wahlstrom has played all season with Jack Hughes, the no-brainer first overall pick for the 2019 NHL Draft, as his center. Hughes, the prother of 2018 top prospect Quinn, has put up astronomical numbers in the USHL that obliterate the production of Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, and Patrick Kane at the same age.
Is Wahlstrom simply riding Hughes’ coattails? The Rangers have been burned on this in the past, with Matt Barzal doing the heavy lifting to generate Ryan Gropp’s WHL production as an example.
In my opinion, this is more of a Kurri/Gretzky situation. Playing with Hughes has optimized Wahlstrom’s output, but he’s an absolutely fantastic player in his own right. In fact, I think it goes both ways. Hughes probably does not produce as well as he has without Wahlstrom as his partner in crime. Wahlstrom is not merely a triggerman collecting incidental assists, but actively creates his own offense and sets up plays for others; Hughes included.
In my viewings of Wahlstrom last summer during the World Junior Summer Showcase, I saw a skilled player on the puck who was constantly close to making a great play but unable to complete it. Over the last nine months or so, he proved he not only has puck skills, but can make it count. His production in the USHL was phenomenal, and he saved his best hockey for April’s U18 IIHF World Championship, where he potted seven goals in seven games for USA en route to a silver medal.
Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina have been grouped together as the top-two forwards in this draft, and that they are. But I don’t think Wahlstrom is as far behind as advertised. This is an incredibly skilled 200-foot player who can be leaned on in all situations. He’s a sniper who can also dish the puck, skates well, and won’t take long to adapt to a team’s structure. Committed to attend Harvard University next year, I see him as a one-and-done player in the NCAA who isn’t far off from his NHL debut.
Wahlstrom seems like a safe bet to get drafted in the 5-7 range. While there project to be a number of quality defenseman available later in the first round, where the Rangers have two picks, the market for elite offensive wingers pretty much dies once Wahlstrom departs. For that reason, there’s a strong case to be made for the idea of the Rangers trading up and nabbing Wahlstrom.
What Others Have Said
USNTDP U-18 Head Coach Seth Appert (Via USA Today):
“He has the shot, an absolutely special shot, both from the one-timer spot. He plays the Ovechkin spot on the power play and also shooting it in stride with a snap shot.”
Former USNTDP coach John Wroblewski (via Press Herald):
“The goal scoring definitely pops out at you, but he’s exceptional on the forecheck... He doesn’t float around and wait for opportunities, he goes out and makes them.”
Chris Dilks, SBN College Hockey:
“In the past, I thought he relied on his abilities one-on-on a little too much, but he made a couple passes that showed really nice vision here.”