Steve Yzerman described it as a selfish wish, but its fruition is a good sign for the Detroit Red Wings rebuild.
The guy the Wings hope is their goaltender of the future is poised to continue a stellar playoff run Friday when his Edmonton Oil Kings face the Seattle Thunderbirds in Game 1 of the Western Hockey League championship; the winner earns a berth in the Memorial Cup tournament. Sebastian Cossa, a first-round pick from 2021, has a 1.97 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in 13 playoff games.
In early May, Yzerman said, “selfishly, I’m hoping his team goes very far, that would be great experience for him,” while discussing the broader topic of when Cossa might be ready to join the Wings.
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Cossa’s appeal leading up to the draft was multifold: He had a 1.57 GAA and .941 save percentage in 19 games (the season was protracted because of the pandemic), and at 18 years old already towered at 6 feet 6, 212 pounds. The Wings wanted him badly enough to trade up to No. 15, drafting Cossa shortly after defenseman Simon Edvinsson at No. 6.
Cossa put up solid numbers again with the Oil Kings in 2021-22, posting a 2.28 GAA and .913 save percentage in 46 games. He cracked Team Canada’s roster for the World Juniors in December, but it was Brett Brochu, a goaltender twice passed over in the draft, who was named starter by coach Dave Cameron. (The tournament ended up being postponed till August because of rising COVID numbers.)
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Cossa, 19, was regarded as the second-best goaltending prospect in the 2021 draft, behind Sweden’s Jesper Wallstedt, but Wallstedt endured a late-season slip in performance while Cossa thrived. Cossa was billed as an athletic goalie who moves quickly from side-to-side and from butterfly position to standing up. (In butterfly pose, his shoulders still reach the crossbar.) He’s quick to get pucks behind his net and swiftly pass to a teammate.
Wallstedt went at No. 20 to the Minnesota Wild. The Wild signed him to an entry-level contract in May, and he’s expected to begin his pro career with the AHL Iowa Wild this fall.
Cossa likewise has signed his entry-level contract, but Yzerman hesitated to deem him ready to turn pro.
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“Is he ready to play in the NHL next year? I would say no,” Yzerman said. “I think he’s a ways away, to manage kind of the expectation of him. He’s on a very good team in Edmonton in the Western league. For the most part, he’s had a pretty good year.
“Where he plays next year, we won’t determine that till the offseason. I don’t expect to see him at the NHL level next year at all. He’s a good young prospect. That’s a tough position as we all know, and not that I want to rush anybody, (but) I’m definitely not going to rush a goaltender. I’m just going to let his play determine at which level he’ll play at even next year for that matter.”
Alex Nedeljkovic is the Wings’ only NHL goaltender under contract for next season; Magnus Hellberg is hoping to grab the backup spot after a late-season audition. The Wings don’t have any goaltenders under contract for their AHL team, the Grand Rapids Griffins, though Victor Brattström, the No. 160 pick in 2018, is a restricted free agent.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.