Jesper Wallstedt, Minnesota Wild
Wallstedt made history in 2021 as the first Swedish goaltender to be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft. And for good reason. The 19-year old from Vasteras had an outstanding junior career, then followed it up with a solid rookie season in Sweden’s top professional league. He was even better last year for Lulea HF in his sophomore campaign, posting a 1.98 goals against average in 22 games played.
The 2022-23 season will be the first in North America for Wallstedt. He’s slated to begin the year with the Iowa Wild, Minnesota’s AHL affiliate. With Marc Andre-Fleury signed for two more seasons and Filip Gustavsson in a make-it-or-break-it situation, the door is wide open for Wallstedt to compete at the NHL level in the near future.
The big question is how he handles the transition to North America. The ice is smaller. And the off-ice responsibilities are greater. Can he stay in shape over the course of an entire season? Can he adapt to the different style of play? Wallstedt has a ton of upside if everything goes smoothly.
Dustin Wolf, Calgary Flames
Things could not have gone better for Wolf in his first full season of professional hockey. The 21-year old from Gilroy, California won 33 times in 47 outings for the Stockton Heat, owned a .924 save percentage, and took home the AHL’s Baz Bastien Award as the league’s top netminder.
Now it’s up to Wolf to back up last season’s performance and prove to the Flames that he’s ready for NHL duty. Calgary’s current number two – Dan Vladar – is entering the final year of his contract. And Wolf is knocking on the NHL door.
Last year the Flames only used Jacob Markstrom and Vladar. That’s rare for a team in today’s NHL to run a full 82-game schedule with the same tandem. Injuries happen. To me it’s a matter of when, not if, Wolf plays his first NHL game.
His mechanics are sound. And Wolf – who is undersized at six foot – has been proving people wrong for quite some time. He was selected 214th overall by the Flames in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL Draft. I wonder how many teams are kicking themselves for passing on the talented netminder.