Photo Credit – Luleå Hockey
Over the last ten years NHL teams have grown more and more reticent to draft goalies in the first round. From 2011 to 2018 there were only four goalies taken before the end of the drafts first day, and of those four the highest selection was Andrei Vasilevskiy at 19th overall. Part of this shift has been due to how unpredictable many goalies development is. Part of it is also due to even the best goalies in the league being inconsistent from year to year due to the nature of the position.
Since underlying goalie statistics began to be recorded in 2007-08 only eight goalies in the entire NHL have managed more than five seasons with above league average statistics. (Lundqvist, Luongo, Price, Quick, Fleury, Crawford, Halak and Andersen.) It is no wonder that NHL GM’s and scouting teams therefore are reluctant to use a high value pick on a goalie.
However, in the last two drafts prodigal talents between the posts shifted that trend. The Florida Panthers took US National Team stand-out Spencer Knight 13th overall in 2019, and the Nashville Predators selected Russian phenom Yaroslav Askarov 11th overall just this summer.
The 2021 draft will certainly make it three in a row with a goalie in the first round. Likely three in a row with a goalie in the top 15 picks. And there is potential that Luleå’s Jesper Wallstedt eclipses both Knight and Askarov’s draft positions and does something no goalie since Carey Price in 2005 has done, and go top 10.
Wallstedt, having only just turned 18, has a practically spotless resume. At 13 years old he made his debut at u-18 junior level in Sweden. By the time he was 14 years old he was one of the best goalies at the u-18 level. At 15 years old he made the jump to u-20 level, before dominating the same level at age 16-17. He has also starred on the international level at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the U-18 World Juniors. And now, at just 18 years old, he has nine SHL games under his belt and a preposterous .931 sv% in them. Not bad for a league where the average sv% is under .910.
D.O.B – November 14, 2002
Nationality – Sweden
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Weight –214 lbs
Position – Goaltender
Catches – Left
Wallstedt’s Style Of Play
So, what allows Wallstedt to have such great success at such a tender age? How is it that when most talented goalies his age are giving inconsistent performances at a junior level Wallstedt is shutting down men in one of the worlds best leagues?
First and foremost – somewhat appropriately considering he lives just 90 miles south of the Arctic Circle – the Stockholm born prospect is so cool as to appear ice cold between the posts. It does not seem that anything can ruffle his feathers. A crowded crease, one-on-ones, a barrage of shots, or quiet periods. No matter what is happening in front of him Wallstedt is locked in. His poise is exceptional.
Alongside his mental fortitude, the Swede possesses a technical game that most NHL starters would be jealous of. He rarely needs to make big saves, or rely on athleticism, because his skating ability and anticipation leave him in the perfect position to deal with shots simply the majority of the time. As with most modern goalies his base set is Reverse-VH when players get in close on his peripheries, and he is a master at the age of 18.
Unlike a lot of goalies who use it habitually, Wallstedt virtually never “jumps the gun” in terms of when to drop into it. So only exposes his upper corner when the angle of shot is extremely acute. Part of that also might be due to how big he manages to make himself when covering his posts. Wallstedt is no Vasilevskiy or Bishop size-wise, but he uses every inch of his 6’3 frame exceptionally well. He looks bigger than he is between the pipes as a result.
His ability to get himself into position no matter what the situation means that he deals with incoming pucks from all angles well, not just in terms of making the initial save, but also ensuring no rebounds. Smaht Scouting’s Josh Tessler has been tracking the NHL 2021 draft eligible goalies, and from a statistical perspective Wallstedt has allowed less rebounds that virtually every other goalie who will be eligible in 2021. When you account for the fact that Wallstedt is playing against men and the others against players their own age that is even more impressive. The young Swede just gobbles up shots, and has an amazing ability to get shots in awkward areas down on ice in-front of him, or trapped in his equipment.
On top of his mental game and technical prowess, Wallstedt also has one of the best gloves you will see for a young goalie. Often, this aspect of a net-minders game can take the longest time to develop. So many goalie prospects have issues, especially in the low glove area, where not being set can leave a gap that is hard to cover. But with Wallstedt’s technically ability, alongside fantastic hand-eye coordination, he plucks the puck out of the air with ease, even on shots that are hard and accurate. His glove-work through traffic is also a joy to behold as he tracks the puck and shuts play down inside his Bauer trapper.
As for his puck-handling? In a day and age where – partially due to the trapezoid – many goalies struggle with the puck on their stick Wallstedt is an exception. He grew up playing both goalie and skater, and his puck-handling makes you think he could have been a success had he never decided to don the mask. Impervious to pressure with the puck on his stick behind the net, Wallstedt can deceive forwards and is comfortable passing both forehand and backhand. At times he acts as effectively a third defenseman, and it is not a rare site seeing him head out of net to claim loose pucks in-front of him and dish out pin-point passes. Effecting a clean break-out I something he has in his arsenal that most goalies don’t.
So what are the issues? What needs work? Well, not much. That is exactly why he might go top ten in the draft. From a technical standpoint he can sometimes over-angle his blocker, which means pucks end up closer to him that they should be, but this is a minor issue and one that would not even be raised with most goalies.
The only major question? His athleticism. Simply put, Wallstedt is not Askarov or Knight in that area. He is not “as” quick up and down or side-to-side as many high-end goalie talents, though he compensates for this heavily with his skating and lower-body strength, especially going laterally where he can push off the post. Sure, he “can” make some amazing saves, but he cannot recover as well as some goalies.
However, that has not been an issue so far in his career, even at the SHL level. His technical ability combined with his skating and anticipation means that last ditch saves are rarely needed. It is also worth noting that his high-danger sv% this year is .906 in the SHL. At the NHL level, a high-danger sv% of over .840 is elite. The SHL is not the NHL, and eight games is not a large sample size, but it is still mightily impressive. He deals with one-v-one situations well and often simply sets, and outwaits the forward until they run out of room.
It would be an enormous surprise if Wallstedt does not develop into an NHL starter, and with his fundamentals and maturity he has the potential to be an elite goalie in the NHL. If a team in the 8-15 range pick him up in the 2021 draft no-one should complain about the value of the pick.
Tuukka Rask, Goalie, Boston Bruins
Wallstedt and Rask are not only a similar size, but play a similar technical game, while being extremely poised and calm, and not often getting into bad positions. Both also have a lightning quick glove. The Bruins goalie is slightly more athletic than Wallstedt – though he is not elite in this regard himself – but the Swede is a far superior puck-handler and better with his rebound control.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Alexander Appleyard. If you would like to follow Alex on Twitter, his handle is @alexappleyard.
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