Wallstedt, the Wild’s future hope at goalie, prepares to debut

The Wild's next game could be a milestone for their goaltender even if Marc-Andre Fleury isn't in net.

Top prospect Jesper Wallstedt was recently promoted to the Wild from the minors, moving the first-round draft pick one step closer to potentially making his NHL debut.

"You never know," Wallstedt said. "Taking it day by day, and we'll see how it goes. But of course you can see a smile on my face. I'm happy that I'm here, and we'll see if the opportunity comes.

"I'll try to give it my best shot if it happens. Otherwise, we'll just get better every day."

Coach John Hynes called Wallstedt "a consideration for sure" to start at Dallas on Wednesday.

Playing their minor-league goalie worked for the Stars: Rookie Matt Murray blanked the Wild 4-0 on Monday at Xcel Energy Center for his first NHL shutout in his season debut and only fourth career game.

"Right kind of effort for us at the right time," Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said. "We needed it."

The Wild have lost five of their past six games, and the schedule isn't slowing down.

After finishing this home-and-home, they return to St. Paul for a weekend back-to-back vs. Philadelphia and Arizona.

Fleury, who made a season-high fifth consecutive start on Monday, is tied with Patrick Roy for the second-most career wins at 551. Filip Gustavsson is still out because of a lower-body injury, but the goalie is back on the ice.

Wallstedt, 21, had to heal his own injury before he could become an option for the Wild.

His games Friday and Saturday with Iowa in the American Hockey League, a pair of losses to Grand Rapids, were his first action since Dec. 20. On Sunday, the Wild named him to their roster and he backed up Fleury on Monday.

"A little rusty being out for two weeks and getting back into playing games again," said Wallstedt, who was with the Wild as their third goalie in Sweden in November but didn't dress for either game. "You can't really practice on how to play the games. It's tough. So, you've just got to get back out there and play. It was fun. Of course, we didn't get the results, but it was fun to play hockey again."

Before getting hurt, Wallstedt was rolling, going 11-7 with a .922 save percentage, 2.43 goals-against average and two shutouts.

Last season, he went 18-15-5 with a .908 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average. Wallstedt also represented Iowa in the AHL All-Star Classic, and he became the first Iowa goalie and youngest goaltender in AHL history to score a goal.

Since leaving his native Sweden after the team drafted him 20th overall in 2021, the 6-3, 214-pound Wallstedt said he feels his conditioning has improved and he's noticed more and more explosiveness in his play.

"It's been a year-and-a-half of unbelievable hockey with great teammates and great players and great coaches," he said. "Hopefully we keep that journey going."

If Wallstedt draws in soon, getting familiar with the team in front of him shouldn't be too much of an adjustment: Wallstedt is one of five call-ups with the Wild amid injuries to Gustavsson, Jonas Brodin, Kirill Kaprizov and captain Jared Spurgeon; Marcus Foligno returned on Monday vs. the Stars. Vinni Lettieri was also added from Iowa but is hurt, too.

"There's a lot of faces I've seen my whole season," he said.

Still, the competition is different and so are the stakes.

Despite their recent swoon, the Wild haven't dropped out of a crowded playoff race.

But regardless of the circumstances, Wallstedt's first game will be a chance for him to preview the potential that's been percolating in the Wild's pipeline.

"It's very easy to stand here and say, 'I think I'm ready,'" Wallstedt said. "Of course I'm gonna think that. But I think I have had a good season in Iowa. I had a good learning season last year … just getting used to everything here. I feel like this year has really been strong and showing off that I can play down there at a really elite level.

"I feel like the next step is definitely getting here and try to prove myself here."