Welcome to this year’s Top 25 Under 25 series. If you’re unfamiliar, we’re going player-by-player in a ranking of the top 25 Minnesota Wild players that are under the age of 25. It’s fairly simple. Enjoy!
Anything that you read about Jesper Wallstedt seems contradictory in one glaring respect — everybody loves his game, but nobody wants to stake their claim on a goaltending prospect. So let me just put this out there: Jesper Wallstedt is HIM.
Jesper Wallstedt is perhaps the most exciting Wild prospect not penciled in to play in the NHL this season. Every statistic and scouting report on the young man identifies him as one of the best goaltending prospects in the world, but inserts the caveat that goaltending prospects are notoriously difficult to identify. On the other hand, rarely do statisticians and amateur scouts agree on anything, let alone with such vigor. I think that in this case, it’s safe to make that leap of faith and call Wallstedt a lock not to become just a starting NHL goaltender, but to retire as a name recognized by every fan of the NHL.
Wallstedt’s statistical resume is so long as to be humorous — it’s like the entire country of Sweden is doing all they can to get this kid in their building, and they have been for years. He’s entering his age 20 season in 2022-23, meaning that the first season on his elite Elite Prospects card above is from his age 13 season.
Wallstedt’s club season stats are riddled with save percentages in the .910’s and .920’s. At age 15, Wallstedt played 25 games for VIK Västerås HK in Sweden’s J20 league. At age 17, he played his first SHL game, posting a .944 save percentage. The following year, he played 22 games in the SHL, allowing only 2.23 GAA and posting a .908 save percentage. He also posted two shutouts. That’s pretty damn good for an 18-year old rookie playing against grown men.
In 2021-22 Wallstedt improved upon those numbers in another full season at Luleå HF. He was selected to the World Juniors both of the past two years, posting absurd numbers behind a classically structured, smart Swedish squad. At the World Junior Championship this summer, he posted an eye-popping .940 save percentage in five games and earned all star honors by being voted the best goaltender in the tournament.
Wallstedt’s advanced statistics add another layer of excellence to his profile. Based on quality of competition and era-adjusted save percentage in that league, HockeyProspecting.com has developed a rough equivalency for goalies which projects Wallstedt into rarified air: notable comparables include star NHL goalies Andrei Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin, as well as hall-of famer Grant Fuhr.
Of the past three drafts, the model considers Wallstedt one of the three best goalie prospects in the league. The other two are both Russian prospects with the advantage of playing in the world’s best developmental system for goaltenders: the KHL.
You can see that Wallstedt’s track record was on pace or ahead of Yaroslav Askarov, through two years, at which point Wallstedt stayed in Sweden and Askarov had the opportunity to move up to the KHL. The Hockey Prospecting data model makes a case that quality of competition is the most important factor in goaltender development — this is a central reason that, compared to Wallstedt, Askarov posted a far better season two years after being drafted.
With Wallstedt penciled in to make the jump to the AHL this year, I believe that his numbers in this model will make a leap, as he appears to have proven all he can against SHL competition.
Roll the Tape
Wallstedt gave us a very candid window into his game with the following quote: “I want to make as small moves as possible and when I need to and get out of my comfort zone, I can make those game-winning saves.” It’s an interesting look into a player’s mental game with which we are rarely privileged, and also explains why Wallstedt’s highlight reel is relatively mundane: he’s actively trying to steady his team by making shots against him look like low-danger chances.
So, how does a technically sound, safe goalie become a world-renowned talent? This save on Caedan Bankier is a great example:
I just tore my groin watching this Wallstedt save on Caedan Bankier pic.twitter.com/qds8o9mgXt— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) July 15, 2022
Wallstedt’s game employs every molecule of his tall frame on this play without sacrificing balance or agility: his stick cuts off the five-hole as well as a cutback move. This gives him time to read which side Bankier will shoot at, rather than trying to guess and sell out to one side or another. If he were leaning forward and off-balance, he may be forced to bite on Bankier’s head fake; instead, he seals off the right post with his pad and blocker side comfortably. Re-wind that clip and you’ll notice that he could have made it to the left post at any time.
Here’s a spicier clip in which Wallstedt uses that balance to make a second push.
Square to the initial shooter (at first hidden behind Wallstedt on the right of the screen), Wallstedt tries to kick the rebound to the far corner, which is generally the safest place for a rebound. While he fails to achieve this, his balance is sufficient to push from right to left and cut off the second attempt. This is an elite save which he makes look easier than it was through a combination of size and balance.
A picture begins to form that when Wallstedt is playing against high end junior talent, his technique alone makes him elite. The only question you can raise from there is, what happens when he gets flustered? Are his reflexes good enough when tested by elite competition? Enter projected opening night top-nine center Marco Rossi.
Point blank and out of position, Wallstedt finds a way to deflect the second effort into the corner.
A few years ago, twitter user @dantiffany30 provided a great thread breaking down some of Wallstedt’s SHL tape.
Jesper Wallstedt- Lulea (SHL)— Danny Tiffany (@dantiffany30) November 4, 2020
Watch this sequence of saves, never once does Wallstedt fall into “scramble mode” he stays calm, holds his positioning, and uses his strong edges to stay square to the shooter three times. Wallstedt is down and a little deep, but because he’s 6’4.. pic.twitter.com/sXugx52yPy
While this was posted last year in Wallstedt’s Top 25 Under 25 article, it’s worth another look. The thread branches in multiple directions via a treasure trove of film if you’d like to go deeper into Wallstedt’s technique.
The final ingredient in the Wallstedt developmental formula is to season him at the highest level of competition possible while focusing on his development. Having been assigned to Minnesota’s AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild, Wallstedt is in the best league on earth for his circumstances.
Prospect experts are generally in agreement that Wallstedt is a top-five prospect in the Wild’s system and a top-three goaltending prospect on earth. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranked Wallstedt as the second-best goaltending prospect behind only Spencer Knight. He also ranked Wallstedt as a better overall prospect than Marco Rossi and Calen Addison, both of whom are making the NHL roster this year. All three of these players have seen NHL action while Wallstedt has yet to debut in the AHL — if that’s the only thing keeping him from being considered a world-best prospect in the eyes of scouts around the league, you have to think that he’s pretty damn close to The Show.
So why not this season? In a word, polish. While the SHL is a competitive league perfectly fit to develop teenage goaltenders, Wallstedt likely needs time to get up to NHL speed. At times in this preseason, he has been caught off-guard by shots that you just don’t see in the Europe. Time in the AHL will give him the opportunity to adjust to the smaller sheet of ice on which the North American game is played. Most importantly, Wallstedt must to get used pushing his comfort zone and make challenging saves more often, all while adjusting to the workload of a much longer schedule.
Jesper Wallstedt has demonstrated that he’s head and shoulders above any league with an age limit. he basically dunked on the SHL this year playing against grown men as well. If things go right in Iowa, I won’t make any predictions as to his place in Minnesota’s system in 2024; I’ll just point out that this summer, GM Bill Guerin shipped Cam Talbot to Ottawa, the team’s only NHL goaltender under contract past this season. In Talbot’s place is a young backup with a cap hit under $1 MM, the definition of replaceable. Call me crazy, but that leaves a path for Wallstedt to the NHL in 2022-23, however unlikely.
Hockey Wilderness 2022 Top 25 Under 25
25. Mason Shaw, C/LW
24. Sam Hentges, C/LW
23. Simon Johansson, D
22. Hunter Haight, C
21. Nikita Nesternenko, C
20. Marshall Warren, D
19. Filip Gustavsson, G
18. Mikey Milne, LW
17. Mitchell Chaffee, RW
16. Pavel Novak, RW
15. Ryan O’Rourke, D
14. Daemon Hunt, D
13. Jack Peart, D
12. Tyson Jost, C
11. Adam Beckman, LW
10. Connor Dewar, C, LW
9. Danila Yurov, RW
8. Carson Lambos, D
7. Marat Khusnutdinov, C/LW
6. Liam Öhgren, LW
5. Brock Faber, D
4. Calen Addison, D
3. Jesper Wallstedt, G