Jesper Wallstedt Will Define the Wild’s Next Decade

10K Rinks is counting down the top 10 prospects for the Minnesota Wild, as voted by our staff. Today we’re giving you everything you need to know about our #2 prospect, Jesper Wallstedt.

For the first time in history, the Minnesota Wild have a top prospect in net. Jesper Wallstedt is arguably the best goalie not currently playing in North America. Last month he proved just how bright his future looks on the world stage. While he may not be number 1 on our prospect list, there’s no question he’s the Wild’s most important prospect.

His performance at the World Juniors in August further reinforced this idea. He carried Team Sweden to a bronze medal, posting a .940 SV% in 7 games and helping Sweden post the best penalty kill unit in the tournament. His save percentage was nearly 1.5% better than the tournament’s second-best goaltender. Without a doubt, Wallstedt has proven once again that he is the best in his age group.

His level of play on the biggest stage at the junior level should make Wild fans salivate. The potential impact he could have on the state of hockey is huge.

While the Wild didn’t draft and develop such a vaunted goaltender as Wallstedt, they have seen several quality goaltenders hold the line over the years. Niklas Backstrom was a stable and reliable keeper. Josh Harding also before his injury problems. Devan Dubnyk was serviceable for a few seasons before his game deteriorated. Even more recently, Cam Talbot was pretty stable when needed.

However, “stable” and “fixable” aren’t the kind of adjectives used to describe goaltenders who can lead a team through the gauntlet that is the NHL playoffs. Perhaps it’s never been more relevant than the most recent playoffs.

For the purposes of this exercise, consider the goalie performances of the four teams to make their respective conference finals over the past three years. The NHL playoffs are more competitive than the other three major sports. Getting into the last four is a huge 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 the teams that make it to the conference finals is a good place to start.

In the past year alone, three of the four goaltenders in the Conference Finals have recorded positive goals recorded above expectations (GSAx). The only one below zero? Curiously, it was Darcy Kuemper of the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche. However, it’s fair to say that his postseason and the effect it had on his team was an anomaly, as Kuemper’s .902 save percentage in that postseason was the worst of a goaltender. Stanley Cup winning goal since 1988.

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

In the 2020 pandemic-induced bubble playoffs, all four Conference Finals goaltenders finished their playoffs with a GSAx greater than zero. This included two of the top three in the category during the playoffs.

The point here is simple. Teams can qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs with goaltenders hovering around the league average. More often than not, however, their goalie needs to be borderline elite for a team to achieve their ultimate goal. If we’re being honest, goaltenders are perhaps the biggest playoff hurdle for the Wild, who have made the playoffs in nine of the past 10 seasons.

That streak of nine playoff appearances in ten years dates back to the 2012-13 season. The slew of first-round outings has been the punching bag for many, with the likes of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter failing to deliver big goals. But maybe we haven’t talked enough about their goalkeeper.

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

And that only scratches the surface of netminding ineptitude. In a third of those playoff appearances, a goaltender had allowed about a whole goal over expectation per game. Ilya Bryzgalov in 2014 (-8.48 in nine games), Dubnyk in 2016 (-7.27 in six games) and 2018 (-3.8 in five games).

To put it another way: In a third of their playoff run, the Wild have essentially started every game 1-0 going into the opening faceoff.

That’s why Wallstedt’s stellar play in big moments is so encouraging. Forget he’s a top prospect with elite positioning and a great hockey IQ. No, the most encouraging thing about the Swedish keeper is his ability to rise to the occasion. That’s something the Wild haven’t seen since… 2003? Already?

Minnesota’s prospect closet is filled to the brim with NHL impact talent. Players like Marco Rossi, Danila Yurov, Carson Lambos and Marat Khusnutdinov will undoubtedly play a major 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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