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The Wild Are Betting On Gustavsson's Youth and Upside

Photo Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Among the risks that the Minnesota Wild have taken over the past year, trading Cam Talbot to the Ottawa Senators for Filip Gustavsson is one that stands out.

It became clear that one way the Wild were hoping to compensate for the loss of budding star Kevin Fiala was by having one of the league’s best goalie tandems. It’s true that Minnesota needs more stable goaltending next season if they want any chance of replicating last year’s historic season.

That’s why they made the move for Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline. A tandem of Talbot and Fleury could evenly split time, and the rotation would keep them both refreshed. But Talbot basically forced Minnesota’s hands after they re-signed Fleury to a two-year contract extension. The intention of a Talbot-Fleury tandem didn’t work out, leaving the Wild with few options after the trade at this point in the offseason.

There was no insurance policy, either, with Minnesota’s lack of internal options. Top goalie prospect Jesper Wallstedt remains a few years away from making his NHL debut. So it’s ironic that the situation came back full circle with the Wild replacing a Talbot-Kaapo Kahkonen with a similar Fleury-Gustavsson tandem.

The reality is that Fleury took a step back last season, but he’s still a minor upgrade over Talbot. It’s still difficult to imagine the Wild’s goaltending being much better next season with Gustavsson’s track record. That is unless he is able to break out on a new team, of course — one that happens to be one of the league’s best defensive clubs. That would alleviate a lot of pressure from Fleury. Because let’s face it, he’s probably not a bonafide starter who can play 60-plus games and produce elite numbers in the process.

It’s no secret that Minnesota took a risk in adding Gustavsson as opposed to looking at other backup options on the trade market. The Wild are hoping Gustavsson can be what Kahkonen wasn’t, a reliable backup they have confidence in. However, it’s not like they gave Kahkonen much of an opportunity in Minnesota. And there were times that Kahkonen looked like he could potentially be a future low-end starter.

While there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding Gustavsson, the Wild are betting on his youth and upside. While a 23 percent possibility of becoming an NHLer is bleak, his top comparison is Cal Petersen, who happened to breakout last season.

Gustavsson is still developing, and the development process for goalies takes much longer. It’s why there aren’t a ton of young starters in the league. There is a reason to be optimistic about his potential, though, with his strong 2020-21 campaign at age 22. Gustavsson only played nine games, but he finished with a .933 save percentage and saved 3.39 goals above expected.

He didn’t build on it this past season, though. Gustavsson posted a .892 save percentage across 16 starts and 18 games and allowed 7.74 goals above expected. There are a lot of question marks surrounding the 24-year-old, but perhaps a change of scenery could make the difference.

Surprisingly, Gustavsson grades out better than Kahkonen overall and in many areas. Gustavsson is in the 61st and 84th percentile, respectively, in saving medium and low danger opportunities. That adds up with an average goal distance of 18.47, the lowest in the league over the past two seasons.

While he is above-average at saving low-danger opportunities, it comes at a price as he struggles to save high-danger shots compared to league average. Gustavsson’s .802 high-danger save percentage at 5-on-5 in the past two seasons is tied for the 11th-worst rate in the league.

According to Hockey Viz’s saving chart, Gustavsson gave up nine goals on 5.5 expected and 54 attempts when it came to saving tips and deflections. Luckily for Gustavsson, the Wild have allowed the fewest high-danger chances in the league over the past three seasons.

In the same situation, Gustavsson’s .919 save percentage ranks 30th over the past two seasons — just a tad lower than Talbot and Fleury. Gustavsson also is above league average in rebound control (54th percentile) and quality starts (77th percentile). While Gustavsson struggles to save high-danger shots, there are reasons to be optimistic that he can be much better on a more goalie-friendly team. 

It’s crucial that Gustavsson takes a major step forward in his development next season with the Wild. Gustavsson has a prime opportunity in front of him despite just 27 games of NHL experience under his belt. The Wild will find out next summer whether or not they should have added a goalie from elsewhere.

All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference 

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