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Warriors select Sweden’s Wallstedt with import draft pick.

Highly touted netminder projected to be a high pick in 2021 NHL Draft
Jesper Wallstedt in action with Sweden against Latvia during the World Under-18 Hockey Championship this past spring. Steve Kingsman/ photo
The Moose Jaw Warriors found themselves with a bit of a dilemma heading into the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft on Thursday morning.

With an NHL-drafted 20-year-old Belarussian defenceman in the mix, just what angle would they take when their time came to select 46th overall?

The answer was simple: go with the best player available and let the chips fall where they may – after making your pitch, of course. And with that, the Warriors selected highly touted Swedish goaltender Jesper Wallstedt from Lulea HF J20 in the SuperElit League.

“With (Vladislav) Yeryomenko being a 20-year-old, we tried to take the highest 2002-born player we had on the board, whether they were coming or not, and try and add an impact player,” explained Warriors general manager Alan Millar. “His resume is full of international experience, two World Under-18s as an underage player. He’s a 6-foot-3 goaltender that people in the game and NHL project as a potential first-round pick in 2021. So we felt he’d be a good addition to our club.”

Wallstedt’s resume is impressive, to say the least.

The 16-year-old Vasteras product has represented Sweden internationally on a regular basis since 2016-17, including the two World Under-18 championship appearances. Most recently, he suited up for the gold-medal winning Swedes in the World U18 tournament this past spring, taking the ice in a pair of games and posting a 1.50 goals against average and .936 save percentage in a pair of games. With Lulea in SuperElit, Wallstedt played 21 games with a 2.65 GAA and .901 save percentage.

In order to make room for their potential pick, the Warriors had earlier released Belarussian forward Yegor Buyalski.

Two factors complicating matters are Wallstedt’s commitment to the Warriors and where Yeryomenko will land after training camp with the Nashville Predators this fall.

First, Wallstedt. There’s some question as to whether or not he’ll play in Canada this winter, with Millar and Warriors head coach Tim Hunter set to meet with the player and his father in Vancouver in July.

With Yeryomenko, Millar’s understanding is the Predators want him to play another season in the Western Hockey League – but as often the case with import players and especially overagers, a lot can change in the coming months.

“Any time a 20-year-old goes to an NHL camp they could earn an NHL contract and end up playing in the American Hockey League,” Millar said. “So there are some variables that could impact what we have for import players, and that’s a process that will play out this off-season and certainly into the early parts of the season.”

If things work out perfectly and both players end up in Moose Jaw for the coming season, decisions will have to be made in that regard as well – the Tribe would have to decide on their two imports between Wallstedt, Yeryomenko and the returning Daniil Stepanov, who scored 18 goals and 19 points in 68 games as a rookie last season.

“I think we want competition at our camp from top to bottom,” Millar said. “This will create competition in the crease and competition with our import players, but at the same time, I think there’s a process to be fair to everybody and make sure that everybody gets a chance to play. We have to do what’s in the best interest in our club and we have to go through the process with Yeryomenko in Nashville to see if he’s even back.

“So there are lots of variables and we have to wait and see how things play out.”

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