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Jesper Wallstedt's first trip to Minnesota included skating at the Wild's development camp at Tria Rink in St. Paul, but the goaltender also squeezed in a stop at one of the local landmarks.

"Me and a couple of guys headed off to Mall of America to see that," Wallstedt said. "That was nice. It was huge. Compared to all the ones I've seen in Sweden, it was probably three or four times bigger than the ones back home."

Eventually, hockey could bring him to the Twin Cities on a more permanent basis.

Wallstedt is leaving Europe to debut with the Wild's minor league team in Iowa later this year, the next step in a much anticipated journey that could take him from top prospect to Wild goalie.

"You're not a guaranteed NHL player because you're drafted in the first round," the 19-year-old said. "There's lots of work to do there, and I know that. That's what I'm going to do next [season] when I'm heading to Iowa and put in my work there."

Although he hasn't even been in the organization for a full year, Wallstedt has become one of the most intriguing names in the Wild's system.

He's the highest-drafted Swedish goalie in NHL history and the only netminder to be taken in the first round by the Wild, which selected him 20th overall in 2021. Technical structure is the name of his game, with the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Wallstedt squaring up for shots with a poise that limits the need for desperation grabs.

In other words, "He's not far from a second save," Wild director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett said after Wallstedt was drafted.

Not only did he win gold with Sweden at the Under-18 World Championships, but Wallstedt also played in Sweden's pro league as an 18-year-old.

Last season, he dealt with COVID-19 and a hip injury but still appeared in 22 games for Lulea HF, posting an 11-9-2 record with a league-leading 1.98 goals-against average and fourth-best .918 save percentage to go along with three shutouts.

And he could add to his resume in August when he'll compete for Sweden at the World Junior Championship in Edmonton.

"He's a pretty impressive kid," said Brad Bombardir, the Wild's director of player development. "He moves well, controls the body really well in the net, and I think the biggest thing that I see from him — and we don't talk a lot about goalies having good hockey sense — he's got really good hockey sense. He's got a really good feel for the game, really good feel for danger areas around him where the puck will eventually get to."

Getting faster and more explosive is where Wallstedt wants to improve, but he also has adjusting to the smaller rink size in North America on his agenda.

Jesper Wallstedt in action during the Wild’s development camp at Tria Rink.
Jesper Wallstedt in action during the Wild’s development camp at Tria Rink.

Sarah McLellan

This means adapting to tighter passes and likely being on his feet more; already, though, Wallstedt thinks his style will suit the ice and he feels ready for the American Hockey League.

"You get more shots during the game," said Wallstedt, who was between the pipes on Thursday in the 3-on-3 tournament that wrapped up development camp. "That's something I really enjoy."

How much seasoning Wallstedt will require in the AHL before graduating to the NHL is unclear.

"It could be next year. It could be three or four years away. You never know," he said. "That's up to me, how long I want to make that time and just battle every practice and every game, show that I'm ready to take that step. But we'll see when that time comes."

The Wild won't rush Wallstedt, and the team's goaltending is set for the immediate future.

Marc-Andre Fleury is signed for two years, and the team has a backup in Filip Gustavsson after acquiring him from Ottawa in the Cam Talbot trade. After this season, Gustavsson is a restricted free agent.

Still, Wallstedt, who signed a three-year, entry-level contract in May, could be on track to achieve what just a few others have with the Wild.

Of the 16 goalies drafted all-time by the organization, only five actually have seen action for the team.

But with Wallstedt, the Wild might have found a long-term possibility.

"Hopefully one day I can prove to myself and to the organization that I deserve a spot in the highest level."