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2021 NHL Draft: Jesper Wallstedt is polarizing, but not because of him

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It’s a goalie! In a draft! Projected to go in the first round!

Sweden v Czech Republic: Preliminary Round Group B - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Goalies are extremely weird. Just one of those specialized positions in professional sports that cause us all to make a little squirmy face and seek the help of professional experts that have to sort through all the minutiae like an explorer in a vine-ridden jungle. Whether it is pitchers in baseball that need the help of robots and wearable technology to dive deeper into their analysis, or F1 drivers that are just inhuman people that probably enjoy being in one of those NASA spinny globe things (I had to look this up and it’s called a centrifuge) — goalies are the same way.

And while taking them with very high draft picks have worked out for some — and it helps that all four goaltenders in this year’s semifinals were taken with the first 25 picks of their respective drafts, and two of them were taken with top-5 selections — it is generally considered quite risky to use one of the first 50 picks of the draft on a goalie.

Well, that might change this year with Jesper Wallstedt.

Ever since being a freakishly tall 14-year-old — he was 6-foot-3 at that time, what the hell? — Wallstedt has been seen as one of the goaltenders of the future, compared to Nashville Predators top prospect Yaroslav Askarov, in terms of being a sure first-rounder going into their draft years.

It most likely depends on each team’s draft philosophies and whether or not they’re biting their nails, thinking about building a good team but just unable to find a good goaltender, like so many teams have fell victims to. Nashville clearly saw Askarov as The Next One after Pekka Rinne’s retirement and Juuse Saros being a more-than-adequate stopgap until he develops, so if a team really needs that next dude, then Wallstedt might just be a very high pick on July 23.

Pre-Draft Rankings

#1 by NHL Central Scouting (EU Goalies)

#6 by Elite Prospects

#12 by Scott Wheeler/The Athletic

#4 by Dobber Prospects

#10 by TSN

What Scouts Are Saying

Wallstedt started off very well, as a rare first-year draft-eligible to not only play but also excel in the SHL. He fell off in the second half, but his body of work between junior, pro and international is quite strong. Wallstedt’s athletic toolkit doesn’t jump out at you immediately. He’s about 6-foot-3 and moves well but not at an elite level. What makes him such a good goaltender is his tremendous sense and puck-tracking ability. He makes the right read at a remarkably high frequency, with little unnecessary movement in net. Wallstedt can make a tough save when he needs to and has some lateral quickness, but it often seems like he doesn’t have to adjust his technique much on a given save, especially when the puck is in the high-percentage areas. In a sentence, Wallstedt projects as a quality NHL starting goaltender.

-Corey Pronman, The Athletic

The top goalie in this class has played right into the number one overall pick discussion. He’s performed exceptionally well in the SHL this season. His numbers have dropped a little bit since returning from the World Juniors, but do not let that fool you, he is as good as advertised. What makes him good? To start, Wallstedt uses his big frame to his advantage and blends that with really good positioning. However, it’s Wallstedt’s IQ and understanding of plays before they happen that make him the X-Factor every time he’s between the pipes. His use of the RVH and VH techniques is as good as it gets. Jesper Wallstedt has the potential to be one of the best goaltenders in the world.

-Danny Tiffany, Dobber Prospects

Wallstedt finally showed signs that he was human late in the SHL season, surrendering 13 goals on the 70 shots he faced across his final four appearances of the year (a .814 save percentage). Before that, though, he had only ever looked like a manufactured goaltending robot, the kind who checked every single box. I had nitpicks about recent first-round goalies Spencer Knight and Yaroslav Askarov that I just don’t really have about Wallstedt. The only areas where his game doesn’t get an A grade is probably in his lateral explosiveness and agility on his feet (which are the strengths of Askarov’s game, as well as Marc-Andre Fleury’s and Jonathan Quick’s). There’s power in his pushes and he’s quick enough on his feet (he’s certainly not slow) but Wallstedt’s game is built on the foundations of most other NHL goalies today: He fills the net, he plays sharp angles, he swallows his rebounds, his movement is compact, and he reads a shooter and his options so well that he rarely has to scramble.

-Scott Wheeler, The Athletic

Wallstedt is like most notable Swedish goalies in that he uses a standard butterfly style and classifies as an “inside-out” — meaning he sets up from the goal line and moves towards the top of the crease when he deems it necessary. One of several significant aspects of Wallstedt’s “style” as a teenager is that he is incredibly consistent with his deep-in-the-crease preferences and doesn’t seem to switch back and forth from attack mode to staying deep. He’s stays narrow and upright as the puck moves east to west from up high, then he quickly drops (and stays) into his Reverse Vertical-Horizontal (RVH) once the puck drops below the faceoff dots. He’s more aggressive on breakaways but you’ll rarely see Wallstedt challenge a shooter beyond the top of the blue paint.

-The Draft Analyst

Would He Fit In With The Wild?

With Cam Talbot having two years left on his deal, Kaapo Kahkonen showing signs of promise but still developing, and no one really else in the development pipeline with the same high-end projection, yes, please. Wallstedt would instantly be penciled in as the goaltender once Talbot’s contract is up and if he develops, then he can certainly be one of the best goaltenders in the league.

A big if, but the Wild can take that chance.

Could The Wild Get Him?

Definitely not, honestly. It would be one of the biggest shocks this summer if Wallstedt falls into the lower half of the first round. I understand teams being hesitant to take a goaltender with a high pick, but considering that the talent level of this draft tops out as a possible first-line player, Wallstedt can be one of the few game-changing talents available. That only makes it more likely he will be taken with one of the first picks.

He certainly won’t be there at 21 or 25.

A Minnesota Relation

Niklas Backstrom was a god amongst men his first three years of his career in Minnesota. Getting Vezina Trophy votes each of those years and leading the league in save percentage his rookie season. Just absolutely unreal, so it’s only fair that that is the comparison I give for Wallstedt.

A franchise legend that dulled down until he left the sport, but when he was at the top, he was at the top.

2021 NHL Draft Board

  1. Owen Power — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  2. Matthew Beniers — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  3. Brandt Clarke — D, HC Nove Zamky (Slovenia)
  4. Luke Hughes — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  5. Dylan Guenther — LW/RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
  6. Simon Edvinsson — D, Frolunda (SHL)
  7. William Eklund — C/LW, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
  8. Kent Johnson — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  9. Mason McTavish — C/W, Peterborough Petes/EHC Olten (OHL/Swiss)
  10. Carson Lambos — D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
  11. Aatu Raty — C, Kärpät (Liiga)
  12. Chaz Lucius — C, USNTDP Juniors (USHL), U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
  13. Cole Sillinger — C, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
  14. Sasha Pastujov — LW, U.S. National U18 team (USDP)
  15. Jesper Wallstedt — G, Luleå HF (SHL)