Wild general manager Bill Guerin made it clear heading into the 2021 NHL Draft that he’d only trade up if it made sense for the franchise. On Friday night, he traded up for what he clearly believes could be the goaltender of the future.
After watching the Swedish goaltender Jesper Wallstedt fall throughout the first round, Guerin made sure he didn’t fall any further. He traded up to the No. 20 pick to get his guy, flipping the No. 22 pick and the No. 90 pick to the Edmonton Oilers to facilitate the move.
“We had him identified much higher,” Guerin said. “We didn’t want to take the chance of (the Boston Bruins) taking him (with the No. 21 pick). We felt it was an easy price to pay to move up a couple spots and grab him there.”
It’s clear that the Wild see something special in the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Wallstedt, who played Lulea of the Swedish Hockey League last season, posting a 12-10-0 record to go along with a 2.23 goals against average, a .908 save percentage. He is the first Swedish goaltender ever selected in the first round of the NHL draft.
“We have been watching him for a number of years,” Wild director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett said. “He’s a really advanced technical goaltender with lots of experience playing against men and playing internationally. He’s played a lot of hockey in terms of high level hockey which is something we look for in goalies. It’s a good indicator of their future success.”
Despite the seven-hour time change, Wallstedt watched the draft from his hometown in Vasteras, Sweden, about an hour outside of Stockholm. He said he was overcome with emotion when he saw the Wild were trading up to pick him.
“It was very surreal and made me very happy,” Wallstedt said. “I didn’t really know where to go. I hugged my mom, my dad, and my brother. It was just an unreal experience.”
Not surprisingly, Wallstedt grew up idolizing legendary Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. He used to stay up to watch New York Rangers games as a kid and even attended Lundqvist’s goaltending camp. That said, Wallstedt was clear he’s not trying to be Lundqvist in the pros.
“I don’t think I’m trying to build a style like him; I’m trying to build a style like me,” Wallstedt said. “I want to make myself unique in the style that I want to play. But I still think I’ve learned a lot of things on my technical side from all those camps.”
Asked about his timeline for reaching the NHL, Wallstedt said he was going to sit down with the Wild in the coming days and discuss his future.
“I’m preparing myself to be ready for next season,” Wallstedt said. “If the Wild feel they’re really ready to put me in the NHL, I’ll prepare myself to be there. I’ll be ready for wherever I am going to play and really compete for a good spot to keep developing.”
After taking Wallstedt, the Wild also added to their blue line by taking defenseman Carson Lambos with the No. 26 pick. He described himself as a two-way player, and while he prides himself on his defensive prowess, he believes he has some offensive potential. He burst onto the scene during the 2019-20 as a rookie defenseman with the Winnipeg Ice of the Western Hockey League before spending most of the 2020-21 season playing overseas in Finland.
“The opportunity arose with my agent who had some connections over there,” Lambos said. “We kept seeing hockey getting pushed further and further back here in Canada so I just wanted an opportunity to play and the opportunity came up that way so I decided to go.”
The biggest concern with the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Lambos is he had to overcome a serious medical issue. Though he didn’t want to get into any specifics, Lambo emphasized that he’s 100 percent heading into next season.
“I battled through it and I’m a better and stronger person because of it,” Lambos said. “I’m just looking forward to putting that all behind me and shooting for the stars with my future.”
Maybe the most interesting nugget of the first is the Wild tried to move up a couple of times only to have the player they wanted snatched up before they could make a deal.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but when we look back, things fall in place, and they work out the way they should,” Guerin said. “We are extremely happy. Both kids were rated much higher on our lists than we got them. They are very good players. Exactly what we needed.”