Schwartz: Islanders rookie Simon Holmstrom off to a good start since call-up


For Simon Holmstrom, the first point of his NHL career will always be memorable and special.

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Late in the first period of last Friday’s game in Columbus, Holmstrom slid the puck off the boards in the Islanders zone to Mat Barzal, who skated to the Columbus line and set up Oliver Wahlstrom for the opening goal of a 3-2 win over the Blue Jackets.

It was nothing flashy, but it was a smart play that led to his first NHL point.

“It was super exciting,” said Holmstrom after Monday’s practice at Northwell Health Ice Center. “The most important thing was that we won. It was maybe the easiest point of my life. I’ll still take it. It was fun.”

After the goal was scored, the puck was secured and given to Holmstrom, who has a pretty good idea of where it’s going to go.

“I’m probably going to give it to my grandpa,” said Holmstrom. “He was always taking me to practices and being there for me.”

Holmstrom’s road to the NHL, and his first point, took a little longer than expected.

Selected No. 23 overall in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft, Holmstrom immediately made his way to North America and began his professional career with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, but his growth as a professional would take some time.

In his first season, Holmstrom had eight goals and seven assists over 46 games and was a minus-15.   Then in the COVID-shortened season of 2020-21, he had four goals and four assists and was a minus-14 in 24 games. And then last season, Holmstrom took a huge step forward, with 12 goals and 31 assists, and he was a plus-3 over 68 games, helping Bridgeport get to the second round of the AHL Playoffs.

Steady growth over the last three years for the now 21-year-old.

“A lot of maturing,” said Holmstrom. “I came over here at 18 and there’s just a different style of hockey here versus Sweden. It took me a couple of years to adapt and for my confidence to grow and play my game.”

For a little more than three years, Holmstrom waited patiently for the opportunity to join the big club.

“You’re always hoping for the call,” he said. “It’s something you wait for and you just have to play your game and keep going and eventually it will happen and it happened for me.”

With Kyle Palmieri out of action because of an upper-body injury, the Islanders needed to call up a forward from Bridgeport, and it was Holmstrom who received the call and finally made his NHL debut last Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers at UBS Arena.

The Islanders have been keeping an eye on Holmstrom, who had three goals and two assists through 15 games in Bridgeport, and felt the time was right for his first taste of the NHL.

“He’s done a great job and he’s been brought along the right way,” said Islanders Head Coach Lane Lambert. “He’s growing in Bridgeport and he’s here now so he’s doing a good job.”

Through his first three NHL games, Holmstrom has the one assist and is a plus-2, helping the Islanders to three wins. Overall, the Islanders have won four in a row heading into Tuesday night’s game in Philadelphia.

It goes without saying that Holmstrom is having a good time in the NHL.

“I’m just really excited to be here,” he said. “It’s a big opportunity and I’ll do my best and learn as much as I can.”

Three games represent just a small sample size, but so far, the Islanders are impressed with what Holmstrom brings to the table. He’s now comfortable with the North American game, and that has equated to better results on the ice. He’s also proven to the Islanders that he has the intangibles to play in the National Hockey League.

But there’s one aspect of Holmstrom’s makeup that really has the Islanders excited.

“His intelligence,” said Lambert. “He’s got a real innate ability to read things whether it be body positioning, how to engage in battles in order to win the puck, and I’ve really enjoyed watching him.”

In Bridgeport, Holmstrom was playing on a line with two other players who the Islanders and their fans have been keeping a close eye on: William Dufour, who has six goals and three assists, and Aatu Raty, who has tallied four and four.

It may not be long before the Islanders make another call to Bridgeport.

“There’s a lot of talented and skillful young guys down there, and I think they’ll all going to get the chance,” said Holmstrom. “They just have to keep going and they will get there.”

So far, Holmstrom has been welcomed to the team with open arms, which is not a surprise given how this group has conducted themselves over the last few years. It’s a close-knit locker room, and they’ve been able to incorporate young players from time to time; now, Holmstrom is the latest reinforcement to fit right in.

“They’ve been unbelievable,” said Holmstrom of his new teammates. “They’re super nice guys and they’re just taking care of me, so I’m super happy.”

And there’s a lot for Simon Holmstrom to be happy about. His hard work has paid off and, at least for the time being, he’s playing in the NHL with a team that has done a lot of winning so far this season.

The question now is what happens when Kyle Palmieri is healthy?

Holmstrom has played so well, it may be difficult for the Islanders to take him out of the lineup.

Follow Peter Schwartz on Twitter: @SchwartzSports

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