There’s a lot of needs that the Chicago Blackhawks have and a lot of needs that they could address in this year’s upcoming NHL Draft. Our wishlist for the NHL Draft already includes forwards in Mason McTavish, Chaz Lucius, and Cole Sillinger. But today, we have to look further back in the lineup for a position that has been neglected by the Blackhawks for far too long. Chicago needs their future long-term answer at goaltender now that Corey Crawford has been gone for a full season.
Today’s draft prospect on my wishlist is Swedish stud goaltender Jesper Wallstedt.
Why He Fits
The Chicago Blackhawks have been the beneficiaries of having a well-seasoned and groomed Corey Crawford come into their NHL lineup during the 2010-11 season and remain in the starting role until he left the club after the 2019-20 season. They had a few other quality goaltenders come and go and mix with Crawford including Ray Emery, Antti Raanta, and Robin Lehner over the years, but it’s always come back to being Crawford’s net. He’s the last drafted goaltender for the Blackhawks that amounted to anything in the NHL and the ONLY one that has been drafted and did anything of significance with the organization, ever.
So now what do the Blackhawks do without him? Last season we saw a trio of “maybes” in net for Chicago with Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, and Malcolm Subban. Out of those three, we saw Lankinen step forward into the starter role with Subban playing the backup role for the majority of the season and Delia being labeled the third goalie for the majority of the year. It was, fine, I guess. Lankinen burst out of the gate with a rookie of the year-caliber performance in the first half of the season, but slowed in the latter-half of the year. Subban was up and down and Delia was benched for nearly the entire year before getting a number of chances late in the year and performing decently. The long-term answer in net that the Blackhawks have neglected in recent draft years is not currently in the organization. I like Lankinen, but I’m not convinced he can carry the torch as the Blackhawks long-term answer at goalie.
In the last handful of NHL drafts, the Blackhawks have missed huge opportunities to grab that future star goaltender, twice. In 2016, Chicago drafted defenseman Chad Krys with the 45th overall pick and three picks later, the Philadelphia Flyers grabbed Carter Hart. The next year in 2017, Chicago and the Dallas Stars swapped first round picks with Dallas acquiring the 26th overall pick and the Blackhawks taking the 29th overall pick. Dallas selected Jake Oettinger 26th, the Blackhawks taking Henri Jokiharju 29th.
Granted, the Blackhawks do have two promising young goaltending prospects currently in their pipeline with 2019 draft pick Dominic Basse and 2020 draft pick Drew Commesso, but neither of those players have the projected star-quality that Wallstedt has.
*Whispers* Jesper Wallstedt is the best prospect in the #2021NHLDraft and if NHL teams weren’t cowards, they’d pick him in the top-three. At the latest.
— Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari) June 21, 2021
Wallstedt is highly regarded as the best goaltending prospect in this year’s draft and some have him listed as the best player in the draft. But the last time we saw a goaltender get selected first overall in the draft was in 2003 with Marc-Andre Fleury being elected by the Pittsburgh Penguins. I’d say that was a good pick.
Last year’s draft class, as far as goaltenders go, was headlined by Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov and the Blackhawks nearly had a deal in place to move up in the draft and select him. But it didn’t work out and he was taken 11th overall by the Predators.
Now it seems like Wallstedt could be in the same boat as Askarov and fall outside of the top ten picks in the draft. If that happens, there is ZERO reason that Chicago shouldn’t take the 6’3″ Swedish goaltender. We’ve seen what recent goalies drafted in the first round can do in the NHL with Hart, Oettinger, Spencer Knight with the Florida Panthers. By all expert accounts, Wallstedt projects as good or better than those three goaltending prospects as an example. Chicago needs a future star in net, Wallstedt would be it.
• Future Considerations: 7th
• Dobber Prospects: 4th
• TSN (Bob McKenzie): 10th
• NHL Central Scouting: 1st (European Goalies)
• McKeen’s Hockey: 5th
• Elite Prospects: 6th
What The Experts Are Saying
I had nitpicks about recent first-round goalies Spencer Knight and Yaroslav Askarov that I just don’t really have about Wallstedt. The only areas where his game doesn’t get an A grade is probably in his lateral explosiveness and agility on his feet (which are the strengths of Askarov’s game, as well as Marc-Andre Fleury’s and Jonathan Quick’s). There’s power in his pushes and he’s quick enough on his feet (he’s certainly not slow) but Wallstedt’s game is built on the foundations of most other NHL goalies today: He fills the net, he plays sharp angles, he swallows his rebounds, his movement is compact, and he reads a shooter and his options so well that he rarely has to scramble.
Wallstedt’s athletic toolkit doesn’t jump out at you immediately. He’s about 6-foot-3 and moves well but not at an elite level. What makes him such a good goaltender is his tremendous sense and puck-tracking ability. He makes the right read at a remarkably high frequency, with little unnecessary movement in net. Wallstedt can make a tough save when he needs to and has some lateral quickness, but it often seems like he doesn’t have to adjust his technique much on a given save, especially when the puck is in the high-percentage areas. In a sentence, Wallstedt projects as a quality NHL starting goaltender.
The top goaltender in a draft class with a couple of interesting candidates between the pipes, Wallstedt has spent most of this season playing at the professional level. In fact, Wallstedt is only one of four first-year draft-eligible goaltenders to play more than 10 games in an SHL season in the last few decades. Wallstedt seems to have solid technique, keeps things largely under control between the pipes and is especially difficult to beat from in tight. he foundational skills he has, the size, the technique and the prowess he’s shown at a high level at such a young age to have the kind of upside you might take a chance on. I’m just less convinced it’s at a level where you pass on some of the skill that’s available within the top 10 this year.
Wallstedt is one of the more polished goaltender prospects in recent years and with the upswing in taking goaltending talent early in the draft in recent years, backed up by the success seen in the NHL and on the international stage of those goaltending prospects selected, it’s possible that Wallstedt isn’t available for Chicago by the 11th overall pick. But again, as we saw in last year’s draft, much of the same things were being said about Yaroslav Askarov and he still fell to the 11th overall pick. Wallstedt already playing at the professional level as an 18-year-old is way ahead of anywhere the Blackhawks have a goaltending prospect playing right now.
I’m not saying he would jump directly to the NHL, but selecting Wallstedt could fast-track Chicago’s rebuilding process at a key position.