In Canada, there have been many hockey players who became semi-household names before they even reach puberty. Maybe that’s the case in Russia or the Nordic countries too. In the US, where non-NHL hockey has next to no pull in the national consciousness, this doesn’t happen very much. But in one notable case, American hockey fans are still talking about a viral YouTube video from 2009, and what do you know? The subject of that video is still a good hockey player, all this time later.
If you haven’t seen the video, or have forgotten about it, before an early-season Bruins game, a number of youth hockey players from New England got a chance to showcase their shootout skills. A 9-year-old from Maine named Oliver Wahlstrom pulled off a dazzling lacrosse-style goal that made the rounds on SportsCenter and still receives some traction on Twitter to this day. But that wasn’t the only event that put him in the hockey headlines.
Wahlstrom executed another lacrosse-style shootout goal a year later before another Bruins game, when he was 10. As a 7th grader, he cracked the varsity lineup at North Yarmouth Academy, a prep school in Maine. That soon was followed by a commitment to the University of Maine, his father Joakim’s alma mater, which at 13 made him the youngest player ever to commit to play college hockey at the time.
After transferring to Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota, where he played two seasons, he flipped his college commitment to the more highly-regarded Harvard program, and also got his first experience with Team USA at the 2016 Youth Olympics. Though he was injured on a dirty hit during the preliminary round of the tournament by fellow top 2018 Draft prospect Andrei Svechnikov, Wahlstrom impressed USA Hockey scouts with three goals in four games and made the roster for the National Team Development Program a few months later.
With the NTDP, Wahlstrom more than lived up to the hype surrounding him and proved why he is probably the best American player of his birth year. In his Under-17 season, despite relatively modest numbers, he earned a call-up to the U18 squad and performed well, putting up 15 points in 20 games and helping Team USA take home gold at the World Under-18s.
During the summer, Wahlstrom was invited by USA Hockey to the World Junior Summer Showcase, where he was the youngest American by a significant margin. Although he was cut at the halfway point, he parlayed that into a breakout campaign with the NTDP. After presumptive 2019 #1 pick Jack Hughes was brought up to the U18 squad in late December, the line of Wahlstrom, Hughes, and likely 2018 lottery pick Joel Farabee has been absolutely lethal. For the season, through March 12th, Wahlstrom has a 39-36-75 line in 49 games, tops on the NTDP in all three categories. And the impact of this line does answer questions on what his best position is; I firmly believe his talents are best optimized on the right wing.
What do I think about Wahlstrom? I think he is the best American player in this draft and should be a top-5 pick. He has the best shot out of anyone I’ve watched and the variety of ways he can put the puck in the net tells me that facet of his game will translate very well to the next level. He’s also big enough that ability to handle physical play shouldn’t be a concern among scouts and GMs. Offensively, he doesn’t have any skills that are below average. Maybe there are some out there that still see him as a center, but I think if you keep him on the right side, Wahlstrom can be a legitimate top-line player someday. More likely though, he falls somewhere in the 6-10 range, and it is very improbable that he gets picked outside of the top 10. There’s just too much upside in his game for him to slip that far, and his floor is still that of an NHL regular.
The real question for me is, where is Wahlstrom headed next year? He currently is committed to Harvard, but I’m not 100% sure he ends up there. He looks to me to be a one-and-done, possibly a two-and-done at the college ranks, and you can count on one hand the number of players in recent memory who have left Harvard early, despite all the talent the Crimson have produced. While the QMJHL is rarely an option for American players and doesn’t look to be one for Wahlstrom, I wonder if a different school, like Boston College or Boston University, is a possibility. No doubt in my mind they’d make room for him if he wanted to be there. Something that only I am thinking about: What if he wants to play pro hockey in Sweden? His father is from Sweden, giving him dual citizenship. I’m sure an SHL team would be willing to give him an opportunity, and he can jump back to North America in 2019–20. This is unlikely, but given Auston Matthews’s success in Switzerland and Wahlstrom’s immense talent I think it could be worth considering.
What the scouts say
“He’s strong, doesn’t get tossed around, sticks his nose in there and when he skates he looks like [Buffalo Sabres center] Jack Eichel,” - U.S. national junior team coach Bob Motzko
Wahlstrom is a flashy puck wizard who creates offensive chances almost casually…can dance around the ice with the puck on a string, making filthy dekes…he moves around the ice with an effortless, yet powerful, stride that generates plenty of speed…starts and stops on the puck…impressive lateral quickness for his size make him elusive…possesses strong instincts and vision on the ice…makes some skilled passes that put his teammates in prime scoring opportunities, sometimes to their surprise…patient with the puck…loves to shoot the puck and has a rifle of a shot with a surprisingly tricky release…strong on his feet and willing to play in greasy areas of the ice…can be a load to handle when he gets moving…can be relentless in his offensive efforts…protects the puck well using his reach and body position…physical game is there in flashes…when he is engaged he is tenacious and viscous on the forecheck and relentless in his puck pursuit…has some impressive offensive upside at the next level but needs to show he wants it before he’ll reach it - Future Considerations
Natural goal scorer - A threat whenever he’s on the ice. Great anticipation & hockey sense - ISS Hockey