William Wallinder was seen as a major project in his draft year, with the physical tools (height, skating ability) to succeed in the NHL but lacking the poise and polish to really put those tools together into a useful package. Wallinder was drafted by the Red Wings with the 32nd pick of the 2020 NHL Draft, the first pick of the second round, and has spent the past three years rewarding Detroit for their belief and support.
Wallinder has played three seasons of professional hockey in Sweden since being drafted, one in the Allsvenskan followed by two years in the SHL, and he has steadily improved across the board the whole time. Over the last two full years, Wallinder has been one of the best young players in the SHL, leading the league in scoring amongst U20 players during the 2021-22 season and again amongst all U21 players in the 2022-23 season, all while playing defense. Wallinder is clearly a leader in his age group so what could he bring to the Red Wings some day?
As I mentioned above, Wallinder had the size and skating of an NHL defender from the start, and he has only continued to grow into his frame. Wallinder stands at 6-foot-4 and is a phenomenal skater, with enough mobility at his size to provide a ton of value in transition both offensively and defensively.
Latest News & Highlight
While he may not have the skill to be a dynamic puck mover in the NHL someday like Axel Sandin Pellikka projects to, Wallinder does provide a lot of value offensively, with good playmaking instincts and a heavy shot that has improved significantly since he was drafted. He is great at stopping opposing rushes and turning the puck in the other direction, especially with great stretch passes through the neutral zone.
Wallinder’s reach and mobility make him a solid defender for his age and I think he will be able to take on moderately difficult assignments in the NHL quite soon. His skill with the puck is an area that still needs some work and he can force some plays which brings up small questions about his ability to handle the pace of the NHL, but ultimately I think he will be a good NHL defender in a few short years.
Wallinder’s Draft Year
Wallinder was 6-foot-4 in his draft year and was one of the best skating defenders in the 2020 draft class. However, the questions around his offensive game and his hockey sense were significant enough that he fell to the second round where Detroit gladly selected him.
His shot was a clear weak point, with a really awkward wind-up angle and much less power than you would expect from a 6-foot-4 teenager. As is the case for many young players with significant height, he also had room to fill out and grow into his frame as he finally stopped growing. The skating and size combo were certainly intriguing to many teams across the league but Detroit was the first team to decide that the upside outweighed the risks.
What’s Next for Wallinder?
Wallinder signed an entry-level contract with the Red Wings following the conclusion of Rogle BK’s SHL playoff run, even getting a single game in with the Grand Rapids Griffins before their season ended. I expect he will spend all of next season in the AHL adjusting to the pace of play on North America’s narrower rinks as well as life outside of hockey in a foreign country.
The Red Wings have a well-documented log-jam on the left side of defense with Jake Walman, Ben Chiarot, Shayne Gostisbehere, Olli Maatta, and Simon Edvinsson all projecting to be higher in the lineup than him this upcoming season. I expect Detroit to use the best players available to them so in the future I’m not worried that Wallinder will sit out in favor of a veteran simply because the team feels they need to play guys with bigger contracts.
I expect Wallinder to be an excellent player for the Griffins next season, competing with Albert Johansson and Eemil Viro for minutes and possibly getting some time on the power play if all goes well.
When Could Wallinder be in Detroit?
It’s not impossible to imagine Wallinder excelling in the AHL this season and earning himself a call-up later in the season if the Red Wings defense group is bitten by the injury bug, though I think Edvinsson and Johansson both have the inside track on that race. Wallinder is most likely to break out as a full-time NHLer sometime during the 2024-25 season with Gostisbehere out of the picture and Maatta having only one final year left on his contract.
I expect Wallinder to become a solid second pairing defender in his prime, likely behind only Edvinsson on the left side. He’s got the skating and defensive ability to be a reliable depth defender in the NHL by the 2024-25 season in my eyes and I think it’s only up from there for Wallinder.
Wallinder was certainly a risk at the start of the second round, but that risk is already looking well worth it after he spent back-to-back seasons as one of the very best young players in the SHL. There’s no doubt that Wallinder is going to be a good player in North America, it’s only a question of how long it will take for him to establish himself as a regular in the NHL. My guess? It won’t be long.
More Articles in This Series