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Jesper Wallstedt Will Define the Wild’s Next Decade

Photo Credit: Screenshot, Youtube

10K Rinks is counting down the Minnesota Wild’s Top-10 Prospects, as voted by our staff. Today, we give you everything you need to know about our No. 2 prospect, Jesper Wallstedt. 

For the first time in history, the Minnesota Wild have a blue chip prospect in net. Jesper Wallstedt is arguably the best goalie not currently playing in North America. Last month, he proved how bright his future looks on the global stage. While he may not be No. 1 on our prospect list, there is no doubt he is the most important prospect the Wild have.

His performance in the World Juniors this August solidified that notion even further. He carried Team Sweden to a Bronze Medal, posting a .940 SV% in 7 games and helping Sweden post the top penalty kill unit in the tournament. His save percentage was nearly 1.5% higher than the next-best goalie in the tournament. Without a doubt, Wallstedt proved yet again he is the best of his age group.

His level of play on the biggest stage at the junior level should have Wild fans salivating. The potential impact he could have in the State of Hockey is enormous.

While the Wild haven’t drafted and developed a goaltender as highly touted as Wallstedt, they have seen multiple quality goaltenders man the crease over the years. Niklas Backstrom was a steady, dependable goaltender. So was Josh Harding before his injury troubles. Devan Dubnyk was serviceable for a couple of seasons before his play deteriorated. Even most recently, Cam Talbot was steady enough when needed.

However, “steady” and “serviceable” are not the kind of adjectives used to describe goalies who can carry a team through the gauntlet that is the NHL playoffs. Perhaps never has this been more relevant than the most recent playoff runs.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s consider the goaltending performances of all four teams to make their respective Conference Finals the past three years. The NHL playoffs are more competitive than any other three major sports. Getting into the final four is a massive accomplishment, even if you’re the Stanley Cup favorite.

Hell, the Wild haven’t sniffed a chance at the Clarence Campbell Trophy in nearly two decades. So yeah, looking at teams that make the Conference Finals is a great place to start.

Just this past year, three of the four goalies in the Conference Finals recorded a positive Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx). The only one below zero? Oddly enough, it was Darcy Kuemper of the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche. However, it’s fair to say his postseason and the effect it had on his team was an anomaly, as Kuemper’s .902 save percentage these playoffs was the worst by a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender since 1988.

In the 2021 playoffs, all four goalies in the Conference Finals finished with a GSAx above zero. Those four goalies accounted for three of the top four finishers in the category. That includes current Minnesota goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who did this with the Vegas Golden Knights.

During the pandemic-induced bubble playoffs of 2020, all four goalies in the Conference Finals ended their playoff runs with a GSAx above zero. That included two of the top three in the category during the postseason.

The point here is simple. Teams can qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with goaltending hovering around league-average. More often than not, though, their goaltending needs to be borderline elite for a team to reach its ultimate goal. If we’re being honest, the goaltenders may be the biggest postseason obstacle for the Wild, who have made the playoffs in nine of the past ten seasons.

That stretch of nine playoff appearances in ten years dates back to the 2012-13 season. The multitude of first-round exits has been the punching bag for many, with the likes of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, and Ryan Suter not delivering big goals. But perhaps we haven’t talked about their goaltending enough.

Remember how a positive (and, most of the time, elite) GSAx is needed for a deep playoff run? Brace yourself, Wild fans. Over those nine playoff appearances, ten Wild goalies have played in the postseason. Only ONE(!!!) has provided his team with a positive GSAx – Talbot in the seven-game series against Vegas in 2020-21. Oofta.

And this only scratches the surface of ineptitude netminding. In a third of those playoff appearances, a goaltender had allowed around an entire goal above expected per game. Ilya Bryzgalov in 2014 (-8.48 in nine games), Dubnyk in both 2016 (-7.27 in six games), and 2018 (-3.8 in five games).

To put this another way: In a third of their postseason runs, the Wild essentially started every game down 1-0 before the opening faceoff.

That’s why Wallstedt’s stellar play in big moments is so encouraging. Forget that he’s a high-end prospect with elite positioning and excellent hockey IQ. No, the most encouraging thing about the Swedish goaltender is his ability to rise to the occasion. That’s something the Wild haven’t experienced since… 2003? Ever?

The prospect cupboard in Minnesota is filled to the brim with NHL impact talent. The likes of Marco Rossi, Danila Yurov, Carson Lambos, and Marat Khusnutdinov will undoubtedly play a massive role in the Wild’s Stanley Cup hopes over the next decade. But none of them will be more crucial to their success than Jesper Wallstedt.

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Photo Credit: Screenshot, Youtube

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