Columnist image
Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

|Archive

In 2017, Jesper Wallstedt, then just 14 years old, became the youngest player to suit up in J20 SuperElit, Sweden's top league for junior players, breaking the record set by Victor Hedman.

In 2020, Wallstedt became the youngest goalie to play in a Swedish Hockey League game.

Now, he's poised to make more history by becoming the first goalie from Sweden to be picked in the first round of the National Hockey League draft. 

"I have the chance to be the first one, it's crazy," Wallstedt said. "It's hard to think about. I've really enjoyed this process before the draft and just very excited. It's something special."

Two Swedish goalies have been the first pick of the second round, with Oscar Dansk (Columbus, 2012) and Jacob Markstrom (Florida, 2008) going 31st overall. Wallstedt is almost certain to go higher. TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button has him at No. 7 on his latest list of top prospects

The 6-foot-3 native of Vasteras played 22 games for Lulea in the SHL last season, posting a 12-10-0 record and .908 save percentage. 

Wallstedt spoke to TSN about his development, how he became a goalie and which NHLers he enjoys watching the most. The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

How did you become a goalie? 

"Both my father and my brother played goalie. I grew up watching my brother (Jacob Wallstedt). Also, Henrik Lundqvist was very big at that time and had a run to the Stanley Cup Final with the Rangers, so that was probably the start of it." 

You also played defence until age 12, was it a tough choice between positions? 

"I liked both, so I had a hard time choosing, but at the time I was a bit better at goalie and didn't maybe have the conditioning to play defence. So, yeah, I ended up in the net instead." 

What did it mean to break Hedman's record? 

"That was the first big accomplishment that I had, and it was thanks to Vasteras, my hometown team. They really wanted to push me. I had to really push myself to get there and be ready for that season. I picked up a lot of things from that season and it made me more prepared when I moved up to Lulea. So, three years in the under-20 league made me very prepared for when I was to play in the SHL. It meant a lot and it was a lot of fun that season. I still remember it as if it was yesterday." 

You are also the youngest player to score a goal in the junior league. What was that like? 

"Oh, it was crazy. It happened so fast and that's something not everyone has done. So, I'm happy for my goal and hopefully I can maybe score another one someday." 

I couldn't find a video of it; can you describe what happened? 

"I don't think there was any video of that, actually, so I don't know that it happened even (smiles). They took out their goalie and dumped the puck down on me, hoping to get a whistle, but I just decided to put it out and go for a shot and it ended up in the net. It was crazy."

Did you keep that puck? 

"Yeah, I have it up in my house here back in Vasteras and I think I looked at it today just for fun. I saw it today and got to remember back a little bit on that time." 

What was it like moving away from home at such a young age?

"I thought it would be easy, like every 15-year-old from Sweden thinks when they're moving far away from their parents, but it was a hard time. I thought everything was going to fix itself, but unfortunately it didn't. But I learned a lot from that. I've taken a lot of things with me to today and today I can cook and clean and take care of myself. I think that's something good to learn before you take a step over to the other side of the big ocean. It was important for me, but it was a rough time for sure." 

What does it do for your confidence to hold your own against men in the SHL? 

"It puts it a little higher. I'm a pretty confident man, but always if you're doing well and putting up great numbers and getting the wins for the team, you'll always get some extra confidence and that's always going to improve you, so it's great for me. I think this season has been great for my development." 

What did you take from the World Juniors experience in Edmonton?

"I only got to play one and a half games, so maybe a little bit disappointed at that time. But I got back with a lot of good energy to Lulea and played eight games in a row there and played pretty well. So, I think it was a great tournament for me ... I got more from the mental side. When you're not playing all the time, you can always take something positive, and some extra energy and I think I did that and that made me play a little better when I got back. I'm always happy to have the chance to play with the national team." 

How do you work on the mental side of the game? 

"I've been trying to educate myself a little bit. When I was younger, I was watching YouTube and you can pick up small things. I have a little bit of an everything coach on nutrition and physical side and also the mental side, so he is also helping me and we're discussing different things."

What did you look up on YouTube? 

"Mental tips not only as a hockey player, but generally in sports. You can get some good tips. I got some tips that I put into my game that helps me, but also made my own new routines to give me mental refreshment."

Can you give us an example of something you do during games?

"I usually go for a little skate every time the whistle blows. I'm always trying to stay clear in my mind and be ready for the next puck that will appear on my side. So, going for a little skate instead of just standing there helps my mind stay clear." 

What's something you've taken from an outside source that you've incorporated into your game? 

"How you think throughout the game. How to think about positive things and analyze things and then just let it go and have a clear mind and how to do that in a specific order. You have to find a specific way that works for you. Everyone is not the same, so you have to try some new things and what's working best for yourself." 

Who did you enjoy watching this NHL season?

"Marc-Andre Fleury and Andrei Vasilevskiy are two goalies I enjoy watching, because they are so different from how I play ... I like the way they make the highlight-reel saves in many of the games they play. I enjoy the way they play, but I’m not that style so that's the reason I enjoy watching them so much." 

How are you different than Vasilevskiy? 

"We're different in our athletic abilities. He's longer than me, but so athletic and can always do these insane saves where it looks like an open goal, but he's getting out there with a leg or a glove or whatever. My style is maybe to stay a little more calm and in some way read the game and be in the position to make the save look as easy as possible. That's maybe a little difference. Every goalie is unique. Everyone is trying to build their own style up and build a plan that works for them. I always enjoy watching different goalies and see how they rely on their game styles." 

What stands out about Fleury? 

"I enjoy watching his competition level every game. He's never giving up on a puck even though sometimes the save can look ridiculous. He's never giving up on a puck and just always keeps his team in reach of winning."

You have your own website. What sparked that? 

"Most of that is my agency doing their thing. We are trying to build a brand around myself. I don't want to only be known as just a hockey player. I want to be known as a human as well."

What's important to you off the ice?

"Mostly my family. I don't see them that often throughout the season. I'm spending 11 months in Lulea, so it can be rough not seeing them that often, but I'm getting a little bit used to it. They are very important to me." 

How would you describe your personality? 

"I'm a pretty calm goalie and person. I really enjoy meeting new people. I try to get to know different people and we can talk, and I can develop from that as a person too. I hope I can say I'm pretty easy to talk to. I'm always open to hear from others and let them speak about anything and I'm always going to be there listening. That's a little bit about me."