Is it too much, too soon for Oliver Wahlstrom?
The 13-year-old prodigy entered the pantheon of young phenoms when he became the youngest player ever to commit to an NCAA hockey team, when he verbally committed to the University of Maine.
North Yarmouth Academy head coach Eric Graham said, per NYA's official website:
Oliver is a very special player who has done well for us this year despite facing much older competition. His skating ability and ice awareness have allowed him to not only compete at the prep level, but get noticeably better in every game he’s played. His skill set is exceptional, and his approach to the game is mature well beyond his years. As serious as he is about hockey, he has a pure love of the sport which becomes clear whenever he steps on the ice. He loves scoring goals, and he loves having the puck on his stick. The University of Maine has landed a great talent and person in Oliver Wahlstrom. Congratulations to Oliver and his family.
Wahlstrom is a seventh-grader at North Yarmouth Academy and earned a spot on the varsity team, further establishing what is his limitless potential.
Chris Peters of CBS Sports' Eye on Hockey explained some of the motivation from Maine's perspective for signing Wahlstrom now:
College hockey recruiting, due in part to competition with Canadian major junior and amongst other schools, has seemingly created more and more early commitments, but few have ever approached this level of youth.
Buzzing the Net's Neate Sager thinks the Wahlstrom family also had something to gain from having their son commit so early:
Mind you, this is probably more about the Wahlstrom family wanting to keep college and junior hockey recruiters at a distance by making their plans known. Oliver won't sign a letter of intent until he's a senior in high school, as per NCAA policy.
Of course, both of those ideas explain why it makes sense to sign a 13-year-old to a college scholarship, but you can't help but wonder if Wahlstrom is getting too much exposure at too young an age.
For a little bit of background, Wahlstrom is the youngster who burst onto the scene at nine years old with the display of trickery below.
Then two years later, he did his best Dwayne Robertson impression, carrying the puck on his stick before essentially throwing it in the back of the net.
Predicting future success can always be so difficult for young athletes, especially those who haven't hit puberty yet.
Who knows what kind of player he will be in five years? While a verbal commitment isn't binding and Wahlstrom can change his mind down the road, the horse may already be out of the barn.
Soccer fans will be the first to tell you that success at an early age doesn't always guarantee that somebody will blossom into a star. At the youth levels internationally, you always see players looking great at 14, 15 and 16. Most of their success is down to being bigger and faster than the other players. Then everybody catches up in terms of physical development, and those players who were great in their teens fall into obscurity.
Kerlon is a great example. He famously had the "seal dribble," in which he would run up the pitch bouncing the ball on his forehead.
However, the young Brazilian star ended up putting a massive target on his back as a result of his overnight fame. Opposing players were all too willing to go in hard on tackles.
Kerlon moved much too early from his home country, and his career has never lived up to the hype.
While Wahlstrom is unquestionably a talented player, is he really good enough to warrant earning a scholarship to a Division I college? Had it not been for those two YouTube clips, nobody would even know who he is—much like Kerlon would have been just another soccer player if not for his "seal dribble" going viral.
It's one thing to put a good highlight reel together. It's something different to have the talent to actually come as advertised.
For better or worse, Wahlstrom has been thrust into the spotlight as a result of his commitment to Maine. He's now gained a fairly significant amount of attention for a hockey player of his age.
This will follow him everywhere he goes, and as he gets older, the target on his back will only grow. Plenty of opposing players will want to show that he is just some overhyped star.
Some players can handle that kind of pressure, but plenty have wilted.
Let's all hope Wahlstrom is more Tiger Woods than Freddy Adu.