Blackhawks 2021 First Round Draft Targets: Goaltenders

The recent trade of Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers is just another reminder that the Chicago Blackhawks are moving forward instead of looking back at last decade’s Stanley Cup runs. With the NHL Entry Draft starting July 23, we have profiled the top five forwards and top four defensemen that could be available at the 11th overall pick. Now, we will look at the best two goaltending prospects of this draft class and why it makes sense to grab one of them.

The Blackhawks were spoiled for a decade with Corey Crawford between the pipes. In addition, they had solid backups over the years when Crawford either struggled or was injured. Guys like Antti Raanta, Ray Emery, Scott Darling, and even Robin Lehner made many Blackhawks fans take the goaltending for granted. The 2020-21 season ushered in a new era as it was the first season since 2010-11 without Crawford on the roster.

Related: The THW 2021 Draft Guide

Kevin Lankinen emerged as the No. 1 goaltender, with Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia splitting the backup duties. While he did have an excellent rookie season, Lankinen is still a long way away from being considered a franchise goaltender. There is not a whole lot in the pipeline when it comes to goaltending. They drafted Drew Commesso in the second round last year and are high on him. However, if one of the top two prospects is still on the board, they need to grab him.

Drafting a Goaltender in the First Round

You can never have too many goaltending prospects in your system. General manager Stan Bowman did not do a good job at stockpiling for the future while Crawford owned the crease in Chicago, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying. He has taken 10 goalies in his 11 drafts, and none of them are currently under contract with the team. Those 10 draftees have combined for one career NHL game, a relief appearance by Kent Simpson during the 2013-14 season.

With the failures in drafting goaltenders, the Blackhawks were very fortunate to fill the void left behind by Crawford. Getting a stud prospect just never seemed to be a priority. The Nashville Predators handled their goalie situation perfectly. They drafted Jusse Saros in 2013 while Pekka Rinne was still an elite player. He seamlessly transitioned into the starting job as Rinne’s career came to an end. They looked to repeat this same scenario when they took Yaroslav Askarov, the top goaltending prospect in 2020, with the 11th overall pick of last year’s Entry Draft. The Florida Panthers drafted Spencer Knight with the 13th overall pick in 2019 just days before signing Sergei Bobrovsky to a huge long-term contract.

Team Russia Yaroslav Askarov
Askarov was taken in the same spot the Blackhawks are drafting this year. (Photo by ANDREAS HILLERGREN/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images)

A lot of fans and pundits frown upon using a first-round pick on a netminder. However, you just have to look at the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs to prove that line of thinking wrong. All four starting goaltenders of the Stanley Cup Semifinals were taken in the first round: Marc-Andre Fleury (1st overall, 2003), Carey Price (5th overall, 2005), Semyon Varlamov (23rd overall, 2006), and Andrei Vasilevskiy (19th overall, 2012). Other first-round picks that played in the NHL this past season were Jack Campbell (Toronto Maple Leafs), Devan Dubnyk (Colorado Avalanche), Jake Oettinger (Dallas Stars), Tuuka Rask (Boston Bruins), and Ilya Samsonov (Washington Capitals).

NHL general managers normally don’t like to use first-round picks on a goaltender unless he’s considered a “can’t miss” prospect. Since 2016, only three have gone in the opening round; Oettinger, Knight, and Askarov. The 2021 NHL Entry Draft could see two goaltenders pick in the first round and possibly before the Blackhawks are on the clock.

Jesper Wallstedt, Luleå HF (6-foot-3, 214 pounds)

There was a ton of hype surrounding Askarov heading into the 2020 NHL Entry Draft before he went 11th to the Predators. Many scouts feel Wallstedt is a better prospect for this year’s draft. While both are still very early in their careers, you can see why Wallstedt might have a higher ceiling.

Wallstedt spent the 2019-20 with Luleå’s U20 junior team. In 28 games, he went 16-11-0 with a 2.53 goals-against average (GAA), .923 save percentage (SV%), and two shutouts. He played all but one game in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this past season. In his first extended taste of pro hockey, he went 12-10-0 with a 2.23 GAA, .908 SV%, and a pair of shutouts.

Jesper Wallstedt Sweden
Wallstedt will be the highest-drafted Swedish goaltender of all time.(Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

You have to look very hard to find flaws in his game. The 18-year-old is fluid in the crease and is very strong on his skates. Wallstedt is not afraid to be aggressive by coming out of his crease to challenge a shooter but is very smart and only does this when necessary. He tracks the puck well through traffic. He has a lightning-quick glove hand and is a good stick handler.

Wallstedt has a very calm demeanor in the crease. He doesn’t get rattled under pressure and bounces right back after giving up a goal. He will undoubtedly be the first Swedish-born goaltender taken in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. If he is on the board when the Blackhawks select, he needs to be the pick. However, there are plenty of teams ahead of them that need a high-end goaltending prospect like the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, and Ottawa Senators.

Sebastian Cossa, Edmonton Oil Kings (6-foot-6, 212 pounds)

In the likelihood that Wallstedt is gone, there is not much of a drop-off with Cossa. In fact, some scouts have him ranked higher than his Swedish counterpart. I’m such a fan of his that I selected him in the THW 2021 Mock Draft after Wallstedt went seventh to the Sharks.

Cossa has been a force to be reckoned with during his two seasons in the Western Hockey League (WHL). He went 21-6-3 with a 2.23 GAA, .921 SV%, and four shutouts in his rookie season. He took full advantage of the shortened 2020-21 season and was practically unbeatable in his 19 games. He went 17-1-1 with a 1.57 GAA, .941 SV%, and four more shutouts. He led the league in both GAA and SV%. However, he was denied the WHL Goaltender of the Year Award, which was won by Calgary Flames prospect Dustin Wolf.

Sebastian Cossa Edmonton Oil Kings
Cossa has all the tools to be a star. (Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oil Kings)

NHL teams love Cossa’s size at 6-foot-6. His big frame doesn’t give much room for the shooter, even when he drops into the butterfly. He is a bit more athletic than Wallstedt and does a great job at using angles to cut off plays. He uses his reach a lot to break up passes and poke check with his stick. While he has no problem being aggressive, he does an outstanding job of picking the right situations to do so.

Cossa has shown the ability to recover quickly when giving up a rebound, which serves him well. He also excels at pouncing on a rebound and covering up the loose puck before another scoring chance is given up. He is fluid in the crease and does not have a lot of wasted movement. He is rarely caught over-committing to one side as his size allows him to stay centered in the crease.

The Blackhawks need a goaltender of the future. That still could be Lankinen. They have Commesso coming up through the ranks and recently added 21-year-old Arvid Soderblom. Wallstedt and Cossa are higher-end prospects than what is already in the organization. While I feel it makes sense to add one of these goaltenders if they are available, ultimately, it depends on how Bowman feels about their outlook on the position. The options will be plentiful when he is on the clock on July 23. We will have to wait and see which direction he goes.

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