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  • A Taste Of Reality Will Help Jesper Wallstedt Rebound From His Debut

    Image courtesy of Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
    Kalisha Turnipseed

    Widely celebrated as the top NHL goalie prospect, Jesper Wallstedt had a disastrous NHL debut, giving up seven goals to the Dallas Stars. The game quickly turned into a nightmare. Wallstedt looked overwhelmed in the 7-2 loss. There was a lot of buildup for Wallstedt’s debut, but the Minnesota Wild defense did him no favors against Dallas. In response, Hockey Wilderness writer Mikki Tuohy offered an apology letter to Wallstedt, assuring him that the team and fans appreciated him.

    The Wild didn’t give him another start after the Stars game. Instead, they sent him to their AHL affiliate club in Iowa because Filip Gustavsson returned from injury. While many fans were upset at how Wallstedt’s debut went, there is recognition that this setback could serve as a growth moment. After enduring his first game and a humbling defeat, Wallstedt can use this experience as motivation as he continues his journey in Des Moines.

    After watching Jesper’s debut, Wallstedt’s father, Jonas, reflected on his emotions. 

    Jesper also shared the significance of this challenging experience, highlighting its potential to contribute to his development as an NHL goalie: 

    “I try to keep it inside of me, try to be professional about when I’m out there,” Wallstedt said. “There were definitely some Swedish swear words that come out when you get off the ice. You have to be pissed, too. It wasn’t good enough. You’ve got to realize that and move on. Put this game in the bag and continue to develop and continue to get better. Be ready for the next opportunity.” 

    Wallstedt offered professionalism and self-awareness in his statement. Wallstedt acknowledges his frustration by admitting that he used Swedish swear words off the ice, but he knows the importance of being composed on it. Wallstedt also displayed a growth mindset by recognizing the need for improvement and the value of learning from each game. Overall, the statement shows a balance between emotional expression followed by a focused, determined attitude toward development and progression. 

    Wallstedt has shown promise in his first 58 games, with a solid 91.1% save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average (GAA). To further improve, he should focus on adjusting his positioning and rebound control to bring down his GAA. Wallstedt can also spark the Iowa Wild by improving his consistency and mental resilience. With the proper adjustments and continued development, there's room for Wallstedt to grow and become an even more crucial presence in the net over Iowa’s next 58 games. 

    The Wild can part ways with Fleury at the deadline, but Fleury would have to waive his No-Move Clause to join a contender. Wallstedt would naturally take on a more significant role if the Wild trade Fleury, creating an opportunity to redeem himself as Minnesota’s goaltender of the future. However, we must consider how long it takes for teams to develop a goaltender they can trust on a contending team. 

    With the requisite development time, Wallstedt could join the ranks of elite first-round goalies like Fleury, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Carey Price, and Jake Oettinger. Vasilevskiy and Fleury are the only Cup winners in this group. Vasilevskiy and Fleury have won back-to-back championships, solidifying their places among the top goaltenders in the league. As Wallstedt continues to grow and refine his skills, he can establish himself alongside these accomplished goalies.

    Kari Lehtonen, Jonathan Bernier, and Al Montoya are a tier below them. Lehtonen, Bernier, and Montoya never fully realized their potential. However, they demonstrated durability, playing at least 15 NHL seasons. Their reliability led to longevity, showcasing how much of an impact they made on their teams. However, they didn’t emerge as standout talents within the league, highlighting the distinction between mid-tier reliability and top-tier excellence.

    But if Wallstedt struggles to recover from his initial NHL start, he might have Jack Campbell, Ilya Samsonov, and Chet Pickard’s career trajectory. The Edmonton Oilers still invested in Campbell, paying him $5 million per season until 2026-27, despite his inability to fulfill the promise of resolving the team's goaltending challenges.

    Campbell plays for Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, and is to assert dominance in the minors. Pundits hyped Campbell as the best goaltender of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and compared him to Fleury and Ryan Miller. In 35 games played for the US National U18 Team of the National Development Program, he posted a 91.3% save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.21. 

    That convinced the Stars to select him 11th overall. He's played 12 games for the Condors, posting an awful 89.8% save percentage and a 3.21 goals-against average. This situation shows the disappointment in Campbell's progression and the severe financial impact of the Oilers’ unfulfilled goaltending solution.

    Samsonov played 42 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2022-23, posting a 91.9% save percentage and a 2.33 goals against. In the offseason, Toronto signed him to a 1-year, $3.5 million contract to be their starter. However, he has disappointed through 16 games, posting an 86.3% save percentage and a 3.88 GAA. Goaltenders are unpredictable, even when they have a track record of success.

    Spencer Knight and Yaroslav Askarov were the most recent first-round draftees before Wallstedt. However, they’re still trying to establish themselves as franchise talents. Knight is the most interesting case. He signed a 3-year, $13.5 million contract ($4.5 million AAV) with the Florida Panthers in September 2022. But he’s experienced non-COVID health issues, and Florida loaned him to the AHL's Charlotte Checkers while he recovers. The Panthers did the right thing to help him recover, but they’re still spending $4.5 million on a goaltender playing in the AHL. 

    Wallstedt's ability to maintain a solid save percentage in Iowa speaks to his skill and composure in high-pressure situations. Now he gets to improve. His consistency and competitiveness have made him a reliable presence between the pipes for the Iowa Wild, giving the team confidence. As Wallstedt continues to develop and gain experience, there is potential for even greater improvement in his goals against average, eventually making him a force in the crease in St. Paul and playing for a high-end roster with Marat Khusnutdinov and Carson Lambos

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    I like Kalisha's take, this was a tremendous learning experience for The Wall. He needs a few more bricks in it. The biggest issue I saw from him was adjusting to NHL shooting speed. His angles seemed to be good, and he moved from side to side well, but on the goal that Pavelski got him on, he drifted, something he could do in the A as not many could hit that shot. 

    To me, I think he needs about 4 more NHL starts this season if he's going to be ready to play backup next season. You could argue, even this, would be rushed due to his age, but he's always excelled in playing up. 

    As for bringing the kids over, I think we've got to make a place for Yurov. If we're going to improve next season, it's going to have to be from within....unless Spurgeon doesn't recover and is destined for LTIR for the rest of his contract. I'm voting that we start sending up smoke signals for him to come over. (I assume his contract situation is the same as it was a few weeks ago)

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