Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2021 NHL Draft Class introductions. The 2020 Draft class was a blast, and the 2021 NHL draft should be too. Alexis Lafreniere was the first overall pick for the New York Rangers in ‘20, but who will it be in ‘21? How about we here at Last Word introduce two names to pay attention to this season: Kent Johnson and Jesper Wallstedt.
2021 Draft Class Introductions: Who To Watch This Season
For the third draft in a row, and the fourth in five years, there is a goalie slated to go in the first round of the 2021 draft. Jake Oettinger in 2017, Spencer Knight in 2019, Yaroslav Askarov in 2020 and Jesper Wallstedt in 2021. Meanwhile, Kent Johnson is another US-born forward in a long line of them slated to be an early draft pick, looking to leave his mark on USA hockey like those before him.
2021 Draft Class Introductions: Jesper Wallstedt
Jesper Wallstedt, born November 14th, 2002, is a young netminder looking to keep the trend of first-round goalie selections going. Being born in Vasteras, Sweden, the 6’3”, 214-pound goaltender looks to cement Swedish stardom as he enters his draft season. Wallstedt first broke out in the 2016-17 season, when a then-14-year-old Wallstedt played for the VIK Vasteras U18 team… as the starter when he got the call. He slotted into nine games with a 3-6-0 record, 2.33 goals-against average (GAA), and a .925 save percentage (SV%). The following year, at 15, Wallstedt played 25(!) games with the U20 Vasteras squad in the U20 SuperElit league, going 15-8-0, with a 2.28 GAA and a .921 SV%. Unreal numbers for a kid his age.
In 2018-19, at 16, Wallstedt played 21 games for Lulea HF’s U20 team in the SuperElit, with a 12-8-0 record, 2.65 GAA and .901 SV%. While this was a step back, certainly, he was clearly too good for the U18 squad, recording a 2-0-0 record, 0.5 GAA, and a .977 SV% in the U18 Allsvenskan league. Wallstedt would bounce back in 2019-20, playing 28 games with the Lulea U20 team, with a 16-11-0 record, 2.53 GAA, and a .923 SV%. He even slotted into an SHL game at 17, allowing a 1.55 GAA, to go along with a .944 SV%, but just coming up short, with a loss. So far in his draft year, he has played 6 SHL games, going 4-2-0, with a superb 1.93 GAA and .924 SV%.
Jesper Wallstedt Overall Game
Wallstedt is one of just a select few goalies to possess incredible confidence and effectiveness when playing the puck. I understand it is a very small detail and has nothing at all to do with his skill set, but this trait could come in extremely handy from time to time. Wallstedt is quick to get out of his net and is excellent at settling the puck down. He has good anticipation and awareness, which allows him to get the puck safely to a teammate and set up a breakout.
As for his goaltending ability, there’s a lot to love. He is so technically sound with his ability to push off and move laterally. There are a lot of young goalies who either push across too far or don’t push far enough or do both sporadically, but Wallstedt is sound in this area. He moves smoothly and gets set and square to the play. Many times in the film I was able to watch, he made saves look way easier than they should be. His angling is excellent, and he took plenty of shots right to the chest for an easy save and cover consistently.
Jesper Wallstedt Comparison
When comparing Wallstedt to other recently drafted goalies, there is one big difference. While Askarov and Knight can make some acrobatic desperation saves with some consistency, Wallstedt doesn’t exactly possess that same trait. I initially heard that statement from the incredible Tony Ferrari from Dobber Prospects in his Contender Series, but upon watching the film myself, I came to the same conclusion. Wallstedt is simply rarely out of position. He seals up the bottom of the net extremely well, shows superb lateral agility, and excellent angles.
Where can Wallstedt Improve?
There are two areas that Wallstedt should look to improve, as there are with just about every draft-eligible goalie. His rebound control is very raw, as there are times he directs the puck out and away from danger and other times where it leads to a dangerous scoring chance. Consistency in that area will lead to a sooner rather than later NHL debut. The other, his aggressiveness. Now, this may seem a bit strange.
What do I mean by aggressiveness, after I said he displays excellent angling? Well, he is a bit deep in his net more often than not. While he is square to shots and takes away the right angles, when he faces guys like Alex Ovechkin and Auston Matthews, if he doesn’t come out and challenge the shooter, he will be exposed. But again, like with his rebound control, that is going to be focused on down the line.
Wallstedt is supremely talented and way above the rest of his peers at his age. He is right there at about the same level as Askarov was about a year ago now. The young Swede has franchise upside like the Russian drafted before him, and though he has to fine-tune a few things in his game, he already shows an NHL-ready technique and skill set at a very early age.
2021 Draft Class Introductions: Kent Johnson
Kent Johnson, born on October 18th, 2002, in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada, is a Center for the University of Michigan NCAA hockey team. The 6’1”, 165-pound forward previously played for the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL. In his first season in the BCHL at 16-years-old, Johnson recorded 46 points (20 goals and 26 assists) in 57 games played. That isn’t anything special, considering the general weakness of the BCHL, but Johnson turned heads last season, being named the assistant captain and tearing up the league. Scoring 41 goals and posting 101 points in 52 games, Johnson dominated.
This season, Johnson joined a loaded Uni. of Michigan squad. Playing alongside Thomas Bordeleau, Cam York, Owen Power, Matthew Beniers, Brendan Brisson and John Beecher, Johnson leads the team in points. That’s right, the 2021 eligible center has 8 points in 6 games, leading the way for a stacked Wolverines squad. He will look to keep this hot start going, as this could lead to him being the first selection in the upcoming draft.
Kent Johnson Overall Game
Johnson doesn’t have great size, checking in at just 165 pounds, as stated earlier. To make up for that, as do most smaller players is by having a very good skating ability. Johnson has that. His skating is fluid and effortless. His stride is technically sound as well. He has very good top-end speed and strong acceleration. He not only uses his skating alone as a weapon, as his edgework allows him to slip between defenders with relative ease and consistency, but he pairs it with his stickhandling. Johnson has fantastic stickhandling abilities, making moves with fluidity and dazzling control. What Johnson doesn’t do is over-use his stickhandling. In fact, he shows incredible awareness and patience when using his dekes, only pulling off moves when they are necessary.
One place where Johnson shined in the BCHL was in his transitional game. In the one BCHL game I tracked, Johnson was directly involved in 5 breakouts, with all 5 getting out with possession. He passed to a teammate on one and carried it out himself on the other four. When it came to entering the offensive zone, he was involved directly in 13 zone entries, with one failing to get in, and two getting in without possession. The other 10 that Johnson was involved in was able to break in with control, with Johnson passing to a teammate once and carrying it in himself the other nine times. His skating, awareness, and stickhandling play a massive role in those numbers.
Johnson’s Offensive Ability
Johnson is also excellent once in the offensive zone. He set himself upon the perimeter more often than not, and his teammates kept feeding him the puck. Johnson would control the tempo of play. He would slow things down, control the puck and wait for an opening. If it wasn’t there, he would draw a guy in and make a simple pass to space. But if the opposition cheated towards covering the simple pass to the point, then he would strike. Johnson has a knack for getting the puck in the slot area to teammates. His vision is high-end and he has excellent passing ability.
To put it into perspective, here are some more numbers I gathered. Johnson was 28 of 31 passing the puck in the offensive zone, which was a 90.3% passing accuracy clip. Of those passes, 18 of them were deemed simple passes, showing just how much he controls the tempo. He only failed to complete one simple pass. He attempted six centering passes, completing five of them. One led to a primary assist. Johnson also attempted three cross-ice passes, completing two of them. Finally, he completed four-cycle passes on all four attempts. It’s clear that Johnson is a play-maker. This perimeter style will work. But, if Johnson can become an effective player in the slot area on top of that, he could be dangerous.
Johnson’s Shooting Ability
Johnson had 10 shot attempts, with six of them sent on net. He scored a goal as well. That goal came from one of his two total shots that hit the net from outside the dots. That’s where he usually lines up on the perimeter. However, five of his 10 attempts came from the slot, with three of them hitting the net. If he can continue to drive the middle and consistently get those slot opportunities, he could add another dynamic element to his offensive game.
Johnson has a really good shot as well. He did, in fact, score over 40 goals last season. It features a quick and deceptive release. The accuracy and power both need some work to be effective at the NHL however. But he shows incredible awareness on his shots. He knows how to change the positioning of his hands to get shots off from different angles. Plus, he still gets a lot behind it. If he can make strides in his shooting ability this season, he could be an offensive force.
Johnson’s Defensive Game
Where Johnson needs a ton of work is in his defensive game. He looks extremely disinterested and disengaged when the puck is in his own end. That being said, he projects better as a winger at the next level, currently. He very often glides around, puck-watching, and not engaging in any sort of coverage or individual battle. Then, when his team gains possession, he is one of the first to shoot up the ice for an offensive opportunity. Johnson needs to be much more engaged at the very least.
Currently, Johnson looks to have a ton of upside. While his game is still raw, and he will need to add some more to his offensive game to be lethal. He already possesses an incredible toolset as is. Based on style of play only, he compares to Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. Kane has always been a dazzling offensive player, with excellent skating, stickhandling, awareness, and passing abilities. His defensive game however holds a negative impact on the ice. Hopefully, Johnson’s game in his own end can improve. But as Kane has shown, he doesn’t need to be a great defensive player to find immense success.