‘Class of his own’: Swedish goalie Jesper Wallstedt giving teams reason to be drafted high

Detroit News

Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series, as The Detroit News breaks down the NHL Entry Draft by position heading into the July 23-24 event. Today: Goaltenders.

Detroit — Few positions in sports are as intricate and unpredictable as the hockey goaltender.

The position involves so much mentally, confidence is utterly important, and dominance in the junior level doesn’t always carry over to the NHL.

So, drafting a goaltender early in any NHL Entry Draft doesn’t happen often. Normally, a team will wait until the later rounds and hope they mine a gem that way.

But that could change next week.

Swedish goalie Jesper Wallstedt is being viewed by many scouts as the type of goaltender who teams feel confident can take over their netminding position, soon, for a decade.

“He’s been the best goalie prospect from Sweden for many years,” Goran Stubb, NHL Central Scouting’s director of European scouting, said. “He is a great competitor, is quick, he reads the game very well, and despite being young, already has a lot of experience.

“(Wallstedt is in) a class of his own among European goalies.”

Wallstedt played for Lulea in Sweden last season and was superb. In 22 games, he was 11-8-3 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .907 save percentage with two shutouts. He also starred in two world junior championship games for Sweden.

Most evaluators feel it will not take long for Wallstedt to reach the NHL.

“Jesper Wallstedt is closer to being able to play rather than further away,” TSN draft analyst Craig Button said.

Scouts love the athleticism and intangibles. It’s fairly certain Wallstedt will go somewhere in the first round.

But where? And could the Red Wings be the team to take the plunge?

The last goalie to be selected in the top five picks was Montreal’s Carey Price, who went fifth in 2005 to the Canadiens. Price’s selection turned out to be accurate and fruitful for Montreal.

The Wings have only once drafted a goalie in the first round of the Entry Draft — Tom McCollum, with the 30th overall pick, in 2008.

McCollum only played three games with the Wings (won once), last played in the organization in 2018, and last season played in Europe in Innsbruck.

But general manager Steve Yzerman has shown in his front office career he isn’t shy about taking a goaltender early in the draft.

In fact, Yzerman has done it in Tampa and been extremely successful doing so, selecting Andrei Vasilevskiy with a first-round pick in 2012 (19th overall). Ironically, the Lightning received the pick from the Wings in a trade for Kyle Quincey.

All Vasilevskiy has done lately is lead Tampa to two consecutive Stanley Cups, and this season turned in a playoff Most Valuable Player (Conn Smythe Trophy) performance.

The Wings have the No. 6 pick and also have a pick at No. 22 next week, which is Washington’s first-round pick that was sent to Detroit in the trade deadline deal involving Anthony Mantha.

Would it easier for the Wings to take a goaltender in that later spot?

If it is, there’s another viable option at that juncture.

Wallstedt will likely be gone, but Sebastian Cossa is a goaltender who will likely be looming, and available, in that part of the draft.

Cossa isn’t projected to be a top-10 pick, maybe not even top 15. But in the latter half of the first round, scouts generally feel Cossa is worth a consideration.

Cossa is a big goalie (6-foot-6, 210 pounds) and had an exceptional season for Edmonton in the Western Hockey League. Cossa was 17-1-1 with a 1.57 GAA and .941 SVS.

NHL Central Scouting ranks Cossa as its No. 1 North American goalie.

“He battles hard and never gives up on plays,” Al Jensen, NHL Central Scouting’s goalie scout, said. “You look at his positional play and it’s good with his typical butterfly style and great net coverage, whether it’s flaring out his pads for the low corners. He also keeps his body upright in case there’s a deflection so he can use his shoulders or glove.

“When he does his movements in the crease, it’s generally controlled. There’s just a huge upside with him as well as Jesper. The two of them are head and shoulders above the rest of the draft class goalies right now.”

Here are other goaltending prospects who’ll likely be selected somewhere in the middle rounds:

Benjamin Gaudreau: The 6-2, 175-pounder was the best goalie in the under-18 world championship, backstopping Canada to the gold medal. Playing for Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League, scouts are impressed with Gaudreau’s quickness and ability to read plays.

Tristan Lennox: While playing for Saginaw in the OHL, Lennox was 20-8-3 during the 2019-20 season (COVID-19 shut down the OHL this past season). At 6-4 and 190 pounds, Lennox has the size and plays well positionally.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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