Wild’s plan to boost Jesper Wallstedt’s confidence was a success

Hoping to give some confidence to one of their top prospects this month, the Wild looked at the schedule and penciled goaltender Jesper Wallstedt in at Chicago and San Jose.

Good plan.

Wallstedt heads into his offseason on the heels of his first two NHL victories, a 4-0 win in Chicago on April 7 and a 4-2 victory at San Jose on Saturday night. Much better than his NHL debut, a 7-0 loss at Dallas on Jan. 10.

The Stars will begin the postseason with the Western Conference’s top seed and at least 111 points. The Blackhawks and Sharks won’t be in the postseason, and in fact have been two of the NHL’s worst teams this season, but so what?

Instead of brooding over getting shellacked in his first NHL game — not all his fault, by a longshot — Wallstedt now heads into the postseason 2-0 with a 1.01 goals-against average and .962 save percentage in his second and third NHL starts.

And all the confidence that comes with that.

“It was important. That’s why we scheduled it the way that we did,” Wild coach John Hynes said.

That first start wasn’t a complete washout, either. Wallstedt, 21, took a lot of lessons from that game, and used his last several weeks at AHL Iowa trying to fix what hurt him against a Stars team that had scored 293 goals through 81 games, second in the NHL.

“It definitely feels much better going into the offseason like this, knowing I actually can play at this level,” Wallstedt told reporters in San Jose. “I thought I could when I was up last time when we played in Dallas. Apparently, I wasn’t, and this time I think I showed more of what I can do — and that I can go through struggles and come back stronger from it.”

Now, the Wild’s first-round pick in the 2020 entry draft is aiming to make the NHL roster out of camp next fall.
“Hopefully next year in training camp, I’ll be even better and will have improved even more,” he said.

Barring injury, Wallstedt’s NHL season is over. Filip Gustavsson was scheduled to start Monday against the Kings in Los Angeles, and Marc-Andre Fleury is scheduled to start the season finale Thursday against Seattle at Xcel Energy Center.

“I think the more opportunities you get to play in the league, regardless of the competition, it’s good for his confidence, that he’s able to get two wins and play solid,” Hynes said. “Now, we have something to build on.”

Rooks reign

Rookie forward Liam Ohgren scored his first NHL goal, and first game-winning goal, in Saturday night’s victory at the Sharks’ SAP Center. He also had an assist, so he earned his first multi-point game, as well.

After his goal, a backhander off a rebound in the slot, teammate Zach Bogosian retrieved the puck from the net, but the rookie had shot it with such force, the veteran had to work to get it out.

With Wallstedt earning the victory in goal, and rookie defenseman Declan Chisholm scoring a goal, it was a big night for young Wild players. Rookie center Marat Khusnutdinov earned an assist, one day after scoring his first NHL goal in a 7-2 loss at Vegas.

“It’s fun to watch those guys,” veteran defenseman Jonas Brodin told reporters. “I remember when I came into the league at that age; you’re nervous at the beginning, but then you get into it. But they’ve been looking really good here the first couple of games, and I’m really impressed.”


Freddy Gaudreau returned to the Wild on Monday after missing two games while he attended to a personal matter. Mats Zuccarello, who also missed the previous two games for the same reason, did not, and it was unclear if he would be back for the season finale. “I haven’t talked with him about that, but I would anticipate it,” Hynes said. “That’s not guaranteed, but I would anticipate he will play.”