The Detroit Red Wings have long been linked with Swedish goaltender Jesper Wallstedt–even before they secured the sixth overall pick. This article will seek to not only balance out why Detroit is rumored to take him, but looking at the pros/cons of selecting him.
Recent Red Wings History Drafting Goaltenders
In the Cap era, the Red Wings have taken eleven goalies. Of those eleven, only one (Thomas McCollum) was taken in the first round all the way back in 2008. Petr Mrazek was the most successful of those goalies, a fifth round pick who was in the crease for the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday afternoon in the 2021 playoffs.
Yzerman has taken a goalie in each of the last two drafts: Jan Bednar (2020) and Carter Gylander (2019). Gylander recently played for Colgate University while Bednar played a season and playoff with Acadie-Bathurst in the QMJHL.
The depth of the goaltending pipeline is anyone’s guess. 2016 sixth round pick Filip Larsson looked to be a rising star after a stellar season with Denver University–only to come crashing back to earth when he went to Grand Rapids in 2018-19. His returns on loan this season weren’t much better.
Jesper Eliasson (2018 3rd round) played in the Austrian League posting respectable numbers. Many eyes are on Keith Petruzzelli who had a standout season with Quinnipiac University in 2021. He has yet to sign an entry level deal with Detroit.
The goalie pipeline, though full of prospects, don’t have any considered elite and are starving for someone to rise through the system to take the job in Detroit for years to come.
Would Yzerman Draft a Goalie at Six?
Of course. If it fits the Yzerplan and is far along enough in the development process to justify a top ten pick. It’s no secret that goalie development is the one that takes the longest–while also being a bit of an unknown in which prospects will emerge from the pipeline and which ones won’t.
It’s the main reason why so few goalies are taken early in the draft, but such history won’t deter Yzerman should he determine Wallstedt is worth it.
The next logical question is if he really is.
Analysts Love Wallstedt’s Potential
Dobber Prospects’ Tony Ferrari lists Wallstedt as a “franchise changer” in his most recent mock draft. Back in February, FCHockey’s Josh Bell (via the Sporting News) listed Wallstedt as the second best player in the draft–a number that has fallen to number seven on their most recent rankings from their official site. Bell, too, has Yzerman taking Wallstedt with the sixth overall pick for many of the same reasons Ferrari does: he could be the “steal” of the draft.
Interestingly, the Athletic’s Mock Draft has Wallstedt falling out of the top 16 picks. That hasn’t been common amongst many draft experts (TSN’s Bob McKenzie currently has him ranked tenth) but it goes without saying that this draft is going to be wide open.
Don’t forget that the crowd gasped when Detroit took Moritz Seider sixth overall two years ago. Now it looks like a brilliant choice.
What Makes Wallstedt a Possibility
Yzerman loves bigger goalies. Go back to his time in Tampa and he sought out Ben Bishop and then drafted Andrei Vasilevskiy who clock in at 6’7 and 6’3 respectively. He also carried Anders Lindback, who towers at 6’6.
Walllstedt isn’t a giant but he is 6’3, and seeing him in the net he covers a lot of real estate. From Central Scouting comes a description that highlights his strengths. In fact, he looks an awful lot like Vasilevskiy with how he squares the shooter and appears to make saves with little effort: From Central Scouting:
“He’s got a very good pro presence in the net and uses his size very well … he plays the top of the paint and is square to the shots, looks calm and controlled with a very good compete and plays a typical butterfly style with excellent coverage.”
But what makes Wallstedt very appealing to a manager like Yzerman is the fact that he played 22 games in the SHL this season. Not Junior. Not college. The same league Yzerman had lauded during interviews, sent his own prospects to play in, and drafted from repeatedly.
Wallstedt could be a realistic fit.
What Doesn’t Make Wallstedt a Possibility
The Red Wings still need skilled forwards and there are plenty to be had. With the draft being an absolute crapshoot in terms of who will potentially fall to the Red Wings both with their pick and Washington’s pick. the gamble becomes one of taking skilled forwards who can score and be foundational pieces as the rebuild picks up. Or does Yzerman take a big swing like he did with Seider?
Prashanth Iyer wrote an outstanding four-piece series with one explaining in length why goaltenders aren’t taken at a greater clip during the higher choices of the first round. He also astutely points out how goaltending help can be found in free agency and provide great value, as seen with Jonathan Bernier.
Yzerman is careful in his roster management and cap space which he has already demonstrated in Detroit over the past two years. Does he gamble on a goaltender projected to be outstanding or does he continue to stockpile the pipeline with skilled forwards, like William Eklund, or Kent Johnson who could help even sooner?
Watching Seider grow into what could be an outstanding NHL defenseman has been the first moment of Yzerman’s tenure for fans to take pause. He isn’t afraid to take a risk and even with terrific forwards falling to him, he went with a defenseman. The gamble appears to have paid off as Seider has collected awards from both the SHL and the World Championships.
Wallstedt projects to be a great goalie. He’s played in arguably the second best professional league overseas (KHL being the first) and appears to have immense potential. He checks off a number of boxes that Yzerman seems to use when evaluating players both in Tampa and Detroit.
It also wouldn’t be surprising if he goes before Detroit’s turn–something that would no doubt turn heads in a similar fashion as the Seider pick just two years ago.
The risk to take a goalie at six is high, yes. But the reward could be greater if once again, Yzerman’s gamble pays off into the netminder so many project him to be.