Prospect Ramblings: Could Jesper Wallstedt be the next Henrik Lundqivst?
2021 was a roller coaster of a year for Jesper Wallstedt.
It began with him sitting on the bench watching Team Sweden bow out of the 2021 World Juniors in a 3-2 quarterfinal loss to the rival Fins. Despite being led by fellow 2002-born prodigies Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, the Tre Kronor managed to end their legendary 54-game round-robin winning streak by dropping games to Russia and the United States before the heartbreaking exit against Finland.
A solid case could be made that Wallstedt – rather than Tampa Bay pick Hugo Alnefelt – should have played those games. Even further, one could argue the results would have changed given the type of hockey Wallstedt was playing.
He posted a .950 save percentage in six of his first 12 career starts for Luleå in the Swedish Hockey League and was on track to break the single-season record for an 18-year-old.
After the World Juniors, he cooled off significantly and slowly conceded the starting role to veteran Joel Lassinantti.
Then came the biggest twist of the Walltedt’s year.
In June, the Detroit Red Wings shocked the hockey world when they selected Canadian goaltender Sebastian Cossa with the 15th overall pick – with Wallstedt still on the board. Detroit was seen by many as a suitor for the Swede given the organization’s recent tendency to swing on players they view as the most talented and the fact that they also possessed the fourth overall pick. Instead, the Minnesota Wild would draft him five slots later with the 20th overall pick.
“I was surprised: no knock on Cossa, but to me, the body of work from Wallstedt was more assuring,” said DobberProspects Goaltender Scout Danny Tiffany. “We’re talking about a goaltender that played U20 at 14 and then became the youngest goalie to ever play in the SHL, a very good men’s pro league.”
Despite being long touted to be the first goalie selected in the 2021 draft, Wallstedt did not let Cossa usurping him affect his game. He has bounced back terrifically this season and once again looks to be in contention for the title of best goalie outside of the NHL.
“Watching him this season, the biggest thing I’ve noticed is the confidence. He trusts his positioning and his overall ability to play the position,” said Tiffany. “That has translated into gaudy numbers in the SHL and led many to wonder; could he be in the NHL next season? It’s certainly a legit question.”
Wallstedt certainly looked like he could play in the NHL at this year’s World Juniors. The 19-year-old followed up a strong outing in a 6-3 opening win versus the Russians with an incredible 48-save shutout against the Slovakians.
He looked genuinely unbeatable and displayed the veteran-like poise in the net that makes him such a tantalizing prospect.
The tournament being cancelled a day later was 2021’s final “screw you” to Wallstedt.
“I picked him as the best goalie of the tournament and he was well on his way to that. He was a step ahead of every shot Russia and Slovakia threw at him,” said Tiffany. The way Sweden was playing, I thought he was gonna lead them to a gold medal.”
Wallstedt would be forgiven if he cheered a bit too loudly at midnight on New Year’s Eve: he enjoyed his fair share of rough luck last year.
Although he won’t begin 2022 by winning a gold medal, The 19-year-old will have the chance to break some more records in the new year.
“The King” Henrik Lundqvist’s 2002-03 season stands as the greatest ever SHL season by a goalie. Two years after being drafted in the seventh round by the Rangers, a 20-year-old Lundqvist posted an incredible .948 save percentage, 1.45 GAA and won 12 playoff games en route to winning the championship and being named Goalie of the Year.
Wallstedt is a long way away from posting those individual numbers this season, but with Luleå in second place, he could very well become the youngest goaltender to lead his time to an SHL championship and the youngest ever Goalie of the Year.
Lundqvist would also then go on to win two more consecutive Goalie of the Year awards and another first division championship before backstopping Sweden to the gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics as an NHL rookie.
Having finally hung up the skates this season, the “King” retires as a first-ballot hall-of-famer and the undisputed greatest Swedish goaltender of all time.
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