Connect with us


Wallstedt Gets A Boost

Three months after a rough NHL debut, Wallstedt gets a second chance with the Wild.

Jesper Wallstedt made 24 saves in a shutout victory on April 7 in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The timing of Jesper Wallstedt’s first NHL start in goal could not have been worse.

The Wild had won only one of their previous six games and were coming off a 4-0 shutout loss against Dallas in early January at Xcel Energy Center when Wallstedt was told he would be starting against the Stars in the back end of a home-and-home. The decision came for all the wrong reasons. Veteran Marc-Andre Fleury had been carrying the load with Filip Gustavsson injured, and Wallstedt was the next man up.

It was encouraging that Wild trailed only 1-0 after the first period on Jan. 10 in Dallas, but things got progressively worse as Wallstedt stopped 27 of 34 shots in a 7-2 loss. Wallstedt, who had been called up from Iowa of the American Hockey League, struggled, but the no-show effort of his teammates earned them much of the culpability for turning the 21-year-old’s NHL debut into a nightmare.

Three months later, Wallstedt finally got the chance to erase that memory and put on display the skills that make him the Wild’s goalie of the future. The circumstances, this time, set up Wallstedt for success instead of failure. The Chicago Blackhawks are awful and the pressure on the Wild is gone. The result? A relatively easy 4-0 shutout for Wallstedt on Sunday afternoon.

“He seemed a little bit more confident and comfortable in the net,” Wild coach John Hynes said. “I thought it was nice that he was able to get himself into the game. He wasn’t under siege, but he made a couple of good saves early. I felt once he made a couple of saves early and saw some pucks, you could see him settle in a little bit and then he looked really solid.”

This was the type of confidence-builder that Wallstedt needed.

“With 15 seconds left on the clock, it was, ‘OK, we’re doing this,'” he said. “Incredible to feel and see the work I’ve put in since Dallas, every single day since then, has really paid off. Definitely a better night today.”

This was only a starting point for Wallstedt, who was the 20th pick in the first round of the 2021 draft by the Wild. He arrived from his native Sweden two years ago and spent the the past two seasons in Des Moines.

Wallstedt, who is 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, posted a 2.76 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in 43 games this season, playing for an Iowa team that has frequently had to send help to St. Paul and is one of the worst teams in the AHL. That makes Wallstedt’s stats even more impressive.

Hynes said Saturday that Wallstedt’s start the following afternoon would have no impact on how much he will play this season. The Wild won’t be making the playoffs, so the final six games, including the Chicago win, present an opportunity for Hynes and general manager Bill Guerin to begin making decisions for next fall.

One of those decisions will be whether Wallstedt opens next season on the Wild roster at what is considered a young age for NHL goalies. Wallstedt won’t turn 22 until Nov. 14, but if Hynes and Guerin feel he’s ready, they could gain flexibility with a roster that doesn’t have a lot of it at the moment.

If Fleury wants to return for a 21st season, and the Wild want him back, he could become the goaltending partner and mentor to Wallstedt. That would enable the Wild to shop Gustavsson, who has had an up-and-down season in the first year of a three-year, $11.25 million contract. Gustavsson has zero no-trade protection, making him easier to move.

Of course, if Fleury retires, Gustavsson and Wallstedt could form a Swedish goalie tandem in St. Paul. Either way, the Wild probably will look to sign a veteran goalie who can play in the minors but also step in if things don’t go as planned for Wallstedt.

That’s why this final stretch of games is important.

“Every game I get up here is a time to prove to prove myself and show what I can do, show my development throughout this time,” Wallstedt said.

A shutout was a good way to start. It also was a good way to exercise those demons from Dallas.

Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Mackey and Judd podcast and also Judd’s Hockey Show for SKOR North. Judd covered the Vikings from 2005 to 2010 for the Star Tribune before joining SKOR North.

Click to comment

2024 State Tourney Guide Issue

Click on the cover to view!

2024 Hockey Day MN Recap Issue

Click on the cover to view!

Sign Up Here to Receive Our Free E-edition!


More in Columnists