Drafting goaltenders in the NHL draft is always risky business and the first goalie selection can even start a domino effect of goaltender after goaltender, for better or for worse. In TWC’s consolidated top 100 prospect rankings for the 2021 NHL Draft, a single goaltender ranks in the top 20, and that goaltender is Jesper Wallstedt, playing out of the SHL in 2020-21.
Who is Jesper Wallstedt?
Jesper Wallstedt was born on November 14th 2002, in Västerås Sweden. The now 18-year-old has spent his career rising through leagues locally in Sweden, as well as representing his country internationally at the junior level.
The netminder first made his presence known during his performance as the VIK Vasteras U18 team starter at only 14 years old. The following year at age 15, he completed 25 games in the J20 SuperElit league, and finished with the fourth best save percentage.
Wallstedt currently plays for Luleå HF in the SHL, the top men’s league in Sweden. He made his SHL debut in 2019 at only 17 years old. Previously he competed in U16 Elit, J18 Elit and J20 SuperElit, often for his hometown club. His older brother Jacob Wallstedt is also a goaltender who competed in lower-level professional hockey in Sweden and the NCAA.
The Swede catches left and stands 6’3 and 214lbs, a respectable build for a modern goalie.
This year’s draft is Wallstedt’s first eligible draft year. He has been on the radar as the top goaltending prospect out of Europe, predicted to go as high as first and low as 17th. No goalie has been drafted in the top 10 since Carey Price in 2005, however Wallstedt’s career stats certainly put him in the running to be a top 10 pick.
Jesper Wallstedt’s on-ice performance
A look at Wallstedt’s recent numbers hints to why he is the top prospect for the upcoming draft.
|2017-18||J20 SuperElit||VIK Västerås HK J20||25||2.28||.921|
|2018-19||J20 SuperElit||Luleå HF J20||21||2.65||.901|
|2019-20||J20 SuperElit||Luleå HF J20||28||2.53||.923|
Wallstedt has consistently put up good numbers across the various leagues he has completed in. If competing in the SHL at 18 is not accomplishment enough, he also posted two shutouts this season along with a .908 save percentage. His numbers in the J20 SuperElit are equally as impressive, demonstrating his consistency and skill between the pipes. His goals against average has remained very consistent across both leagues in the last four years, with a career best of 2.23 recorded this season.
The Swede has also posted impressive numbers at the international scale throughout his career. His most recent appearance with the Swedish national team was at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships. While the team walked away with a disappointing fifth place finish, Wallstedt recorded a .923 save percentage and 2.40 goals against average in the two games he was able to play.
It’s likely Wallstedt will step in as the starting goaltender for Sweden in the 2022 World Juniors next year. It’s virtually a shoo-in that he will perform well at the tournament, especially with previous success under his belt.
Previously, he has also represented Sweden well at the IIHF U18 World Championship, World U17 Hockey Challenge and Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Wallstedt’s best international performance was his 2019 IIHF U18 World Championship appearance where he allowed just three goals against in two games, earning a gold medal.
Jesper Wallstedt’s strengths
The highlights of Wallstedt’s game are his calm demeanor and ability to play the puck. While it is not the most important feature of a goalie, he appears comfortable in the crease in all scenarios, which is an excellent attribution. His technical ability is also advance for such a young player, providing a strong foundation to develop further before his NHL debut.
While playing the puck is a small aspect of complete game play, his ability to do this lends him to be essentially a third defence man. He has a high hockey IQ making him very strategically aware an able to recognize advantages. He is comfortable leaving his crease, making a smart or necessary pass and remaining calm.
The young gun also has an excellent technical understanding of how to position himself in the net. He is able to remain square to the puck and decrease shooter angles. At 6’3″ he is not a giant, but having complete control of long legs is a challenge, something which he demonstrates on a regular basis. He is able to track the puck and effectively move his weight to make strong saves from anywhere on the ice. He rarely over or undershoots his lateral movement, a great indicator of the real skill he has. When he does allow rebounds, he does a fantastic job of repositioning himself quickly to take away opportunities.
In terms of mental game, he shows a lot of maturity remaining calm and making smart game decisions. He has a confident presence on the ice and is a reliable foundation for any team he joins. His attitude is an asset to any team he is on, both on and off the ice. Rarely, if ever, does he appear flustered. As young as he is, playing with composure and intention shows the quality of goaltender he really is. Facing a difficult shot, resetting and make another save without hesitation separates great goalies from average ones. Wallstedt certainly fits the mold of a great goalie.
Areas for improvement
The biggest improvement that can be made to Wallstedt’s game is experience. As trivial as it sounds, he needs more time in the crease and opportunities to learn from veterans. At only 18, it is likely any team who drafts him will keep in the juniors for another year or two and allow him to rack up starting minutes.
As mentioned before, he has an excellent technical foundation to build off and more time will allow him to continue refining his technique. If he continues to build up strength and gain further muscle memory, he could be unstoppable.
Another struggle Wallstedt that has be hinted at is his athleticism. Some have viewed his style of play as sluggish or slow and worry he is unable to position himself quick enough. If this is a true area of weakness, time in a fast passed league such as the SHL will give him the opportunity to improve.
While all players, particularly young ones have room improvement, Wallstedt’s strengths outweigh his weaknesses. There is nothing that can not improve through experience and skill development.
Fit with the Flames
This season saw David Rittich getting traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the NHL trade deadline, and a clear gap has been left to fill on the Flames roster. A strong second goalie behind starter Jacob Markstrom is essential if Calgary hopes to build itself as a perennial contender in the future. There is no doubt the Flames are on the search for another strong goalie, as the transition from Markstrom to Dustin Wolf makes sense, and an addition like Wallstedt could further strengthen the position.
Should he be available when the Flames are up, selecting Wallstedt would not be a bad bet. As it goes with all goaltenders, he certainly will not be NHL ready this season or the next few, however with a couple more years in the SHL under his belt could turn him into a reliable NHL calibre goalie.
The Flames have a unique opportunity here to pick up a first round goaltender, given that selecting a goalie first is increasingly less common, yet for someone like Wallstedt, the return could be worth it as he has show that he can be a strong goalie at lower levels, and the NHL would be in his sights.
Wallstedt is looking to be a low risk pick with every reason to believe he will continue to a solid, mature, and reliable goalie in the future.
Without a doubt, Wallstedt is one of the best goalie prospects in years. Based on his numbers and technical ability, a top 10 selection is certainly a possibility in June. His calm demeanour and advanced technical ability will make him an asset to any team who selects him.
With more experience in the SHL or AHL, Wallstedt could become a powerhouse in the NHL. More time spent in any crease regardless of the league will only improve his game. With excellent foundations, the potential for this prospect is boundless. Goalies are never without risk though, and if you’re using a first rounder on a goaltender they better be the real deal.
The Flames should absolutely consider picking up Wallstedt if they are able, but not at the expense of their offence. If he falls out of favour and is passed on in the first round, he more he falls, the bigger the absolute steal he would be for whichever team picks him up.
Projection: NHL starting goaltender with all-star potential
The Win Column 2021 NHL Draft Profiles:
Featured image created with Venngage.