DES MOINES, Iowa – The game is almost over, but Jesper Wallstedt isn’t done having fun.
The wild standout goaltender was wrapping up his seventh straight win with AHL Iowa Saturday night. The team took a three-goal lead over Coachella Valley with 17 seconds left in the game when Michael Jackson’s voice began blaring from the Wells Fargo Arena speakers.
Wallstedt, age 20, began to buckle at the crease. He was shaking his head as he put down his water bottle. He turned around and started dancing, swaying from side to side as he sang. The 6-foot-3 Swede is mostly a fan of rap music, but who doesn’t know the “King of Pop”? Iowa coach Tim Army quipped that Wallstedt likely didn’t know all the words, but it didn’t matter.
From chirps at training to the golf course to team dinners, Wallstedt is always having fun. He never lacks confidence or personality.
Fellow “Jesper is Jesper” Wild Possibility Marco Rossi said with a laugh. “There are not many men like him.”
Wild bet on it.
Shake on that 10-match scoreline 🕺 pic.twitter.com/w2ToJJisKO
– Iowa Wild (IAWild) January 29, 2023
Wallstedt is expected to be their next goaltender – their number one, and heir to a future Hall of Famer Marc Andre Fleury. It’s his time. It won’t be this year or maybe the next, depending on how Fleury and his work go Philip Gustafson continue playing. But the hype is real and justified for the goalkeeper the Wild selected #20 in the 2021 NHL Draft. He’s the team’s first-round goaltender in two decades. They hope they won’t have to craft another one this high anytime soon.
The plan was to bypass Wallstedt, but he started on his own in his first full season in the AHL. He earned a spot in the league’s upcoming All-Star Game and was the AHL Goaltender of the Month in January, when he won all six of his starts, posting a 1.16 goals against average and a . 958 save percentage.
said Craig Button, a former stud NHL General Manager and Director of Scouting at TSN. “He has the physical skill. He has the technical skill and the mental skill. I’ve seen the best player in the league in Andrey VasilevskyHow he plays with that mathematical acumen, that technical acumen, that poise. May go down as one of the five best goalkeepers of all time. Wallstedt has a lot of the same qualities and similarities.
“He’s not Vasilevskiy, but he’s good. He can carry a team and be a clear number.”
To understand why Wallstedt is such a goalkeeper, you have to know his brother, Jacob.
While Jesper and Jacob’s father, Jonas, played the position, Jacob was a real inspiration for Jesper.
Jacob, now 28, played juniors in their hometown of Västerås, and then in a smaller village outside the city, before going off to college. He now works from nine to five.
They share a father – not the same mother – but the siblings are just as upset today as they were when they were kids.
“I always wanted to be like him,” Walstedt said.. “If he was playing hockey, I’d play hockey. If he was into cars, I wanted to ride in cars. If he was good at technology, I wanted to be good at technology. Whatever he did, I wanted to do it. Even today, he reaches out and wants to talk. He’ll watch.” Matches. Just a great model.”
Wallstedt played soccer, hockey, and floorball when younger. And whether it was sports or video games, Jacob didn’t take it easy.
“It was definitely an unfair fight,” Walstedt said. “Maybe it was because I got all my competitiveness. I remember growing up, I was always losing to him. He was bigger and stronger. He knew how to do everything. I spent all the time losing.”
“I remember the feeling of hitting him once. It meant the world to me.”
Walstedt split time between playing defense and goalkeeper but saw great success in the net. At around 12 or 13 years old, he was playing in a few age groups. While Wallstedt joked that he changed to target because he didn’t want to fall back too far, it was Jacob who told him he was too good between the tubes.
He always wore number 30, in honor of his favorite goalkeeper, fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist. He and Jacob would stay up late into the night watching notice Toys. Wallstedt met Lundqvist at a few camps in Sweden, admitting he was a star. “There was just something about him,” Walstedt said. “For me, it wasn’t just that he was a great goalkeeper. But it was all the equipment he had – he was always ahead in his technique, which was interesting for a young kid. He was also what a great human being he was.”
When did Wallstedt think he had a shot at the NHL?
“I still don’t know if I’ll make it to the NHL someday,” Walstedt said with a laugh. “I hope so. But you never expect to get there. You never take anything for granted. It’s a process to get there. It’s the best league in the world for a reason.”
Wallstedt started feeling good as a 15-year-old, playing in Sweden’s top junior league – one of the youngest ever to play in the league. But he was also humble. “I had a tough first year where I needed to understand the business, how it works outside the rink,” Walstedt said. “You have to spend a lot of time in the gym, you need to exercise more, sleep well, eat well. It was really a good wake-up call. Since then, I’ve continued to develop and improve.
“I feel, at the time, that there was an understanding that with hard work and talent, I might be able to make it happen one day. I’m getting closer and closer.”
Wallstedt thought it would be the Red Wing.
The 2021 NHL Draft was a default due to COVID-19, and Wallstedt was bringing back attention in Sweden.
A bunch of teams showed interest, but Wallstedt had the most interaction Detroit. He estimated that he had about 10 conversations, including a handful with GM Steve Yzerman, who spoke to Wallstedt’s parents as well. So when the Red Wings traded up to No. 15 for the second first-round pick, Wallstedt was ready.
“I thought they would definitely take me,” he said.
Instead, the Red Wings selected another goaltender: Sebastian Cossa, from the WHL.
“It was hard on me,” he said.
But after five picks, the Wild were up. Wallstedt said he may have had one conversation with a Minnesota scout before the draft, so he wasn’t expecting anything. At about 7 a.m. Swedish time, Wallstedt got the call from Wild. He went to sleep for a few hours after that, then celebrated a day on the boat with his buddies.
“I’ll be honest, I never thought the wilderness would choose me,” Walstedt said. “Maybe they didn’t need to talk to me, but I’m thankful they did. It’s a fun reminder for guys who are being drafted: Keep an open mind. Often the team that shows the least interest in you picks you.”
“It ended up the way it was meant to be.”
For Wallstedt’s 20th birthday on November 14, his Iowa teammates wanted to surprise him.
And no, accidentally shooting his mask open was not part of the training.
“He shrugged it off, no problem,” said Iowa fullback Ryan O’Rourke.
The team sings the birthday boy at the end of practice, and O’Rourke and his buddies have some balloons and a surprise dinner waiting for Wallstedt that night (steak, shrimp, salad). “We had a big feast,” O’Rourke said.
Wallstedt spent many nights in O’Rourke’s West Des Moines apartment, with fellow Swede Simon Johansson. They’ll come to dinner and watch a wild game or just hang out.
“He’s kind of what you’d expect from a goalkeeper; he’s got a bit of a quirky side,” O’Rourke assisted. “But he is a very nice real person. Very talkative. He always wants to talk about something.”
Wallstedt lived on his own for about five years, so adjusting to that wasn’t too difficult. He has his own apartment and enjoys cooking (chicken with teriyaki sauce on rice is his favourite). His Iowa bandmates enjoy country music, while he’s partial to rappers like Drake and the Bluffas, but he’s used to it. He keeps in touch with his friends back home via video games and FaceTime. He says the offerings they have in North America are the same as those they had in Sweden.
“It’s just like home,” Walstedt said.
Wallstedt’s biggest challenges were adjusting to the North American game and the AHL. Smaller ice surfaces create different angles, with shots exiting faster out of corners. “It’s more unpredictable here than that,” Walstedt said. “It’s all very fast and very skillful. It’s hard to read.”
Two things Wild Wallstedt wanted to work on from the start of development camp were his conditioning and attention to detail in practice, both of which he improved upon. This just adds to what was already a fairly complete toolkit.
“The big things are his knowledge of hockey, his sense of hockey. He sees the game really well,” said Richard Bachman, goaltending coach at Iowa State, who has had short stints with the team. oilersAnd Canucks And stars. “He’s the kind of goalkeeper who can make adjustments in the game.
“He’s very calm and level-headed, he seems to be in complete control. It’s great to have a goalkeeper.”
He’s showing confidence in Wallstedt to even try and score a goal, as he did in early November. He points to the mental toughness of throwing away rare bad games, like the three times he’s given up five or more goals this season. It exudes competitiveness to see Wallstedt and forward Damien Giroux keep score in practice on who scores/gets stopped the most (Wallstedt won the last fight, 7-5). He reveals some slackness when Wallstedt tweets at his teammates or cracks jokes with coaches, as when he discusses with the military the great Swedish tennis players and athletes.
The army brought in boxing champion Ingemar “Ingo” Johansson.
“Swedish mighty,” Wallstedt cracked.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the starting goalkeeper, and a lot of goalkeepers are allocated to that, very strict, and it affects their style of play,” said Armey. “We think (Wallstedt’s) personality allows him to handle pressure with a great balance. A relaxed attitude. Now at the age of 20, I don’t feel any situation would be too great for him.”
Equally important, it takes maturity to gain perspective and understand the development process – no matter how well things work out.
This is where having an experienced goalkeeper partner in Zane McIntyre can help. McIntyre, 30, recalls falling into the frustration of not being called up or staying in the NHL in his stints with the Bruins.
“It’s about not getting in your way,” he said. Make sure to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes you can be naive or bitter at thinking that you should be in the NHL when you really aren’t. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you have to be where your feet are.”
Wallstedt appears to do just that. Bachman said he could step up to the NHL tomorrow and be able to handle getting into a game. But the question is when is the goalkeeper ready to be there full time, through the ups and downs.
“The reason to gain experience here is to build consistency,” Bachmann said. “You can get high, the adrenaline goes and you can get through it. But to get to game 40, and things start to level off — a lot of goalkeepers see their first 10 games as great — and then you see who they really are at that level.
“It takes 2-3 seasons when you see the evolution, that understanding of what it takes day in and day out to be consistent. (Vasilevskiy) does it night in, night out. That’s what you build it for.”
Vasilevskiy, drafted as the #19 in 2012 as an 18-year-old, played in 37 AHL games over two seasons and gradually groomed himself into #1 while splitting time with Vezina Cup finalist Ben Bishop. Vasilevskiy won Vezina and Conn Smythe winner, two-time Cup champion and It could become one of the best websites everso this is not a real fair comparison.
But Wallstedt, as confident as he is, seems firmly where he needs to be. He learned a lot from conversations with Fleury during camp and from Spice in Iowa.
Does he feel ready for the National Hockey League?
“Of course my answer would be yes,” Walstedt said. “I hope so. But you never knew. I don’t think that’s my choice. I don’t think my voice is the voice you should be listening to. It’s always going to be, ‘I think so, I like that.’ But it’s in someone else’s interest to say whether I ready.
“I just need to work, be patient. And one day, you can reach your dream.”
(Top image courtesy of Iowa Wild)