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Ottawa Senators 2021 Draft Profiles: Jesper Wallstedt & Sebastian Cossa

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Exploring the games of the 2021 NHL Draft’s two premier goaltenders who are looking to make history.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning
What teams are chasing if they select one of these two promising netminders in the first-round of the 2021 NHL Draft.
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Is this going to be the third consecutive year where a goaltender is taken in the top-15 of an NHL draft? Could there be, for the first time ever, two goaltenders taken there?

We’ve all heard about goaltenders being risky selections with high draft picks. There’s extra uncertainty, and when you talk about Cup winning netminders, for every Andrei Vasilevskiy, there’s also an Antti Niemi. The 2021 playoffs is the first time I can remember there being four first-round goaltenders starting for their respective teams in the conference finals: Vasilevskiy, Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Semyon Varlamov. Two of them — Price and Fleury — were taken in the top-five, while the others were taken before 25th overall.

This is also the third draft in a row where a “can’t miss” goalie is rated high. The USA’s Spencer Knight ended up being selected 13th overall by the Florida Panthers in 2019, while Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov was selected 11th overall by Nashville last season. Knight ended up starting a playoff game for the goalie-laden Panthers, while Askarov had a fantastic year from SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL and is the heir apparent for a Predators club that have been spoiled with the play of 258th overall pick, Pekka Rinne, for much of the last decade.

Is it time to add a Canadian and a Swede to the mix? Let’s explore what makes these two ‘tenders special.


Jesper Wallstedt

Pos Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
Pos Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
LG Luleå SHL 6'3" 225 lbs 11/14/2002 #10

Background

Jesper Wallstedt is used to breaking records. He’s the youngest player to ever suit up for a game in the country’s top U20 league, which he did at 14-years-old in 2017, breaking Victor Hedman’s old record. Wallstedt not only played in 25 games, he performed — finishing fourth in the league in save percentage with a 0.921%. There is no historical data of players in their Draft-2 year or younger playing more than seven games in that league. In 2020, he became the youngest goaltender to play in a top flight game with the Swedish Hockey League. On Friday, he’ll surpass second-round picks Jacob Markstrom and Oscar Dansk and become the first Swedish goalie to be drafted in the first-round.

It hasn’t all been a smooth ride for Wallstedt. In 2018-19, after his record-breaking 14-year-old season, Wallstedt moved from his hometown club in Västerås to Luleå, and saw his save percentage decrease to 0.901% in 21 starts. It was middle-of-the-pack league-wide, something he’s not used to as a trailblazer. Despite his struggles in the league, he also started to star for Sweden internationally that season. He won Bronze as a starter at the U17s as a double-underager, Silver as a backup at the Hlinka Gretzky, and Gold as a backup as a triple-underager at the U18s.

He brought that newfound confidence into 2019-20, where he rebounded to finish second in the league in save-percentage (0.923%) in 28 games, while making his SHL debut for Luleå. He added another international medal to his collection, winning a Bronze in three starts at the Hlinka.

This past season, Wallstedt made 22 starts for Luleå’s SHL squad, recording a 0.908% save-percentage as the only draft-eligible player to start a game. If you start to question his statistics, please keep in mind that only three other goalies have ever started more than 10 games in their draft-eligible season — two in the 1980s and one in 98-99. Again, Wallstedt is in his own class. He played sparingly at the start of the season, but eventually beat out veteran David Rautio for a job. Post-World Juniors, Wallstedt went on a bit of a run for Luleå, but ran out of gas near the end of the season — suiting up for just six games in the team’s final three months as a backup to 28-year-old Joel Lassinantti.

At the World Juniors, Wallstedt was famously in net to break Sweden’s group stage winning streak in an overtime loss to the Russians, but likely shouldn’t have even been in net in the first place. No other Swedish netminder in modern history (2004-05) has suited up for a single game in their draft-eligible season. Wallstedt started two games and came into a third in relief. For what it’s worth, his save percentage of 0.923% topped Askarov’s performance last season of 0.877% in five starts.

Scouting Report

The words most commonly associated with Wallstedt are: calm, technically sound, and elite positional play. He eschews confidence from the net, squaring up shooters to make the most of his 6-foot-3 frame in butterfly position.

As you watch the videos I’ve linked below, keep an eye out for the following:

  • Wallstedt’s sense — ability to read the play — and track the puck is elite, meaning that he rarely has to adjust his technique to stop even high-danger chances.
  • He plays angles well, with explosive forward movement to fill the net.
  • He’s compact, with little wasted movement as he surveys the ice in his butterfly stance.
  • He’s great at placing rebounds, a hard skill to learn with a growing body.

Most of the concerns I’ve read about Wallstedt can be summed up as this: some think he’s developed ahead of schedule because of his sense, and wonder if that’ll be enough to differentiate him as an elite NHL starter without the raw athletic tools. What tools are they referring to? Often his lateral explosiveness — a key aspect of Askarov’s game, and what you see in Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Quick. Wallstedt could generate more power in his side-to-side pushes and his overall agility in his feet to allow him true four-way mobility in his crease as sightlines become worse and plays happen at a faster pace on smaller ice surfaces.

My amateur eye always wonders: well, is he making the saves? The data is clear. On average, Wallstedt stops pucks better than other netminders. Let’s briefly examine the data we have on high-danger chances, the ones where you imagine that his weaknesses would appear more prominently if his athleticism is limiting his ability to stop the puck. In Jakub Hromada’s profile on Wallstedt, he cites data on his performance at the World Juniors:

31 of the 51 shots against Wallstedt at World Juniors were in scoring chances. He saved 23 of them, the next four he allowed and the other four hit the post. That’s a 74,2 % save percentage against those high-danger shots. Only Šimon Latkoczy from Slovakia was better – by 8 tenths.

What about the SHL? In his profile in EliteProspects’ draft guide ($), there’s data from InStat Hockey indicating that Wallstedt’s high-danger save-percentage this season was 0.855%. An elite mark for an NHL netminder is around 0.840%.

Wallstedt is signed for the 2021-22 season in Luleå, but interestingly saw his WHL rights traded from Moose Jaw to Portland at the start of June. While I’d be surprised to see him come over to North American ice, it’s a curious acquisition that makes me wonder if there’s something we don’t know going on. Wherever he plays, expect him to try to be consistent from start-to-finish. The workload in North America can be different than the 25-35 starts a goalie usually plays in Europe, but is what Wallstedt will have to get used to if he wants to be a premier NHL netminder.

Further reading, watching, and listening


Sebastian Cossa

Pos Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
Pos Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
LG Edmonton Oil Kings WHL 6'6" 212 lbs 11/21/2002 #18

Background

Standing at 6-foot-1 at 13-years-old, Sebastian Cossa was always big. 6-foot-6, though? With the ability to move like he does? It’s a nearly unfathomable toolkit that might make him the first goaltender off the board on Friday night.

Cossa initially started his playing career in his hometown of Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta, finishing fourth in the Northern Alberta Hockey League in save-percentage. In the spring of 2016, Cossa was one of many who had to evacuate from the devastating fires that hit Fort McMurray, and was displaced from his home for almost three months.

He moved to Fort Saskatchewan, a small town 15 minutes northeast of Edmonton, for AAA hockey and put up a league-leading 0.934% save-percentage as a 13-year-old in a U15 league. His performance got him drafted in the second round in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft by the Edmonton Oil Kings, after which Cossa moved onto Fort Saskatchewan’s U18 AMHL the following season. While top netminders usually only spend one year in the league, Cossa played an extra season after sustaining a broken collarbone days before Edmonton’s home opener.

That patience paid off in a big way for the Oil Kings. In his rookie season (2019-20), Cossa wrestled away starts from their 20-year-old netminder Todd Scott and started 33 games, one of just four Draft-1 goaltenders to play 10+ starts that season. His 0.921% save-percentage was tied for fourth league-wide, and the fourth-best mark for a Draft-1 goaltender ever — beating Carter Hart, Carey Price, and Devan Dubnyk.

In 2020-21, Cossa started 19 of the Oil Kings’ 23 games and finished with a league-leading 0.941% save-percentage — the third-best mark for a single season in WHL history. Yes, it was a shortened season. Yes, the Oil Kings played in a weak division. Yes, the Oil Kings are a dominant team, led by two first-rounders in Jake Neighbours (2020) and Dylan Guenther (likely). All you can ask Cossa to do, though, is to make saves when he’s asked to, and he’s done that at fantastic rates over the past two seasons. According to data from EliteProspects (via InStat Hockey), Cossa had a 0.914% save-percentage on high-danger chances this past season.

Scouting Report

At 6-foot-6, Cossa covers a lot of the net — even in butterfly stance — and while he plays well in a structured system, what surprises people is his raw athleticism. On low corners, he’s adept at sealing the ice and the five hole with quick leg reflexes. He can be patient on his outside edges and push off quickly to get in-and-out of his butterfly stance or move side-to-side to stop a cross-crease attempt. If you get too close, he isn’t scared to poke check the puck, either.

Cossa is aware of his mechanical limitations, and doesn’t let that stop him from stopping pucks even if his technique is a little messy. He’s determined and battles in net to recover quickly on rebounds. He could stand to work on his technique when following the puck low-to-high, that horseshoe motion with the skates that goalies have to make while ensuring they aren’t leaving any glaring holes in their angles. He’s worked to simplify his game this season, but can still be busy in net — losing track of pucks that can stymie his otherwise high-end ability to anticipate play.

In lieu of rehashing a lot of data on Cossa, I highly recommend you read Josh Tessler’s profile on his game on Smaht Scouting. Josh tracks a fair amount of data on goaltenders, including on quickness and rebounds, and provided a comprehensive breakdown on Cossa’s game.

Unlike Wallstedt, Cossa doesn’t have options as to where he plays next season. Instead, the big question will be whether he’s able to keep up his elite performance across an entire WHL season. It’ll be fascinating to see if he’s able to compete directly with Wallstedt if the latter reports to Portland.

Further reading, watching, and listening


Are you intrigued? There have been multiple mock drafts featuring analysts with industry sources who state that Ottawa’s pick is the one to watch as a potential landing spot for a goaltender. I’m not too old to remember the reports from last year saying that the Sens were choosing between Sanderson and Askarov at fifth overall.

The Senators are a team with a surplus of goaltenders, with the 2020-21 season leading to breakout performances from Filip Gustavsson at the NHL level, Mads Søgaard at the AHL level, and Leevi Meriläinen in Finland’s top U20 league. When you add former collegiate standout Joey Daccord to the mix, the organization appears ripe to be a team with a modern goaltending tandem — two 1Bs who can split starts and not get exhausted heading into the playoffs.

On the other hand, with new front office hire Pierre McGuire valuing an elite starting goaltender as part of his cup contending profile and the 2021 class being looked at as one not having a franchise-altering talent except at goaltending, some modern models like Byron Bader’s rank Wallstedt as high as third given his potential to impact a team.

Travis Yost dug into the data a bit more to illuminate whether the opportunity cost of using a high draft pick on a goalie was worth it. I recommend reading the entire piece, but this observation stands out when you look at goaltenders drafted between 2007 — 2015:

For forwards and defenders, you basically have a one-in-two chance of a first- or second-round pick becoming an NHL regular player. Compare that to the likes of goaltenders, where you have a 1 in 5 chance of that occurring.

This decision will ultimately come down to how the Senators evaluate their goaltending depth, their timelines for building a contending team, how they rank the skaters on their board relative to Wallstedt or Cossa at 10th overall, and finally, if they see these two as the “next one”. It’s going to be a fascinating storyline to watch.