As I wrote on Monday, defensemen are always in demand at the NHL Draft. This may cause some, like Jake Sanderson, to go higher than where others think he should go. There are also defensemen who will be available after the 13th pick or so who are worth taking a chance on. Someone who is young for this draft class, much larger than most of this draft class, and filled with a lot of potential. Someone who could end up being a very good pick in hindsight if it all works out. Someone that could be worth a pick around, say, 17th overall. This someone is the subject of today’s profile: MODO Hockey’s William Wallinder.
Who is William Wallinder?
According to his profile at Elite Prospects, William Wallinder hails from Sollefteå, Sweden and was born on July 28, 2002. This means he is still 17 and will be at that age if the 2020 NHL Draft happens before the end of July. Wallinder is a defenseman with a left-handed shot and is listed at 6’4” and 192 pounds. If you like your defensemen to be big, then Wallinder has the frame you are looking for. Sure, he needs to add muscle and fill out that frame more. He is 17; he’s likely still growing into his body.
After coming up through with Sollefteå HK, Wallinder joined the MODO Hockey organization in the 2017-18 season. He has come up through their age groups since then. In 2018-19, he primarily played with their under-18 teams but he did get a taste with two appearances with the under-20 team in the SuperElit league. In 2019-20, MODO moved him up further. He played just one game with the U-18 team and picked up five assists in that one game. Wallinder made 37 appearances with the U-20 team in the SuperElit league and tallied five goals and nineteen assists. The big achievement was that MODO had him play in 18 games with the men’s MODO team, who were in the Allsvenskan (second division behind the SHL) that season. He did not play much in those games; the Allsvenskan site listed his average ice time at 4:59. However, the organization clearly thought highly of his future to have him dress for 18 games. They further justified their belief in the player by signing him for two more seasons earlier this month. All of this has happened before he was close to turning 18 years old.
But, wait, there’s more. Not only did MODO sought to see how he would handle the next level competition, but the decision-makers for Swedish hockey were interested in Wallinder since 2018-19. Wallinder made eight appearances for the Swedish U-17 team that season, scoring two goals and registering one assist. In this past season, Wallinder represented the three crowns twelve times. He was part of the Swedish team that finished third at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup as well as Sweden’s roster at the 2020 Five Nations tourney (an under-18 tourney). As per Jokke Nevalainen’s Five Nations’ review at Dobber Prospects, Wallinder was an assistant captain at the Five Nations but missed the last game and registered one nice-looking assist.
Wallinder has done quite a bit for any prospect, much less one of the youngest in this year’s draft class. How has that impacted his draft stock? Let us take a quick look at where others have ranked him:
Where is William Wallinder Ranked?
Wallinder has plenty of people believing he is a first-round prospect. There are a number of dissenters who have Wallinder going in the second round.
- #14 European Skater - Central Scouting Services (April 8, 2020 - Final Ranking)
- #25 - Elite Prospects Top 31 (February 2020 Ranking)
- #49 - Future Considerations (March 1, 2020 ranking)
- Not Ranked - McKeen’s (Mid-season rankings from January 18, 2020 via EliteProspects)
- Not Ranked - International Scouting Services (March 2020 ranking via EliteProspects)
- #19 - HockeyProspect (January 16, 2020 ranking)
- #21 - TSN.ca - Bob McKenzie (Mid-season ranking from January 30, 2020)
- #18 - TSN.ca - Craig Button (March 30, 2020 ranking)
- #40 - Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst (March 2, 2020 ranking)
- #14 - NHL.com - Mike G. Morreale (March 6, 2020 ranking)
- #25 - Sportsnet - Sam Cosentino (April 8, 2020 ranking)
- #23 - Dobber Prospects - Cam Robinson (April 1, 2020 ranking)
- #21 - The Hockey Writers - Josh Bell (February 28, 2020 ranking)
- #26 - The Hockey Writers - Andrew Forbes (March 14, 2020 ranking)
- #33 - The Hockey Writers - Larry Fisher (April 6, 2020 ranking)
- #31 - Raw Charge - Lauren Kelly (Mid-season, January 22, 2020 ranking)
- #26 - Defending Big D - Derek Neumeier (Mid-season, January 20, 2020 ranking)
While the dates of the rankings vary, more often than not, those who rank players tend to think Wallinder is in or on the cusp of being in the top 31 prospects. Those who have him on the outside are interesting if only by who has made that designation. While McKeen’s ranking was before the Five Nations, the more recent rankings by Future Considerations, International Scouting Services, and Central Scouting Services (unless you think the 14th best skater out of Europe would crack the top 31?) are cooler on him. The only professional service that has him in the first round is HockeyProspect; but that was back in January.
The media has been kinder to Wallinder in terms of rankings. TSN, Sportsnet, The Hockey Writers, and NHL.com all have him in the top 31 with the lone exception of Larry Fisher’s recent ranking where he is just on the outside of it. Even the midseason rankings by in-house blogs, Raw Charge and Defending Big D, have him just inside their top 31. The exception is Steve Kournianos, who had him 40th. But The Draft Analyst has warmed up as that ranking was a seven-spot improvement from his previous one.
All together, the consensus is that Wallinder could very well be a first-round selection. How team scouts view him will determine whether he is near the end of the first round or if he is in the middle of the first round. Why is that? Let us learn more about Wallinder as a player.
What Others Say About William Wallinder
Steve Kournianos put up a scouting report on Wallinder on his site, The Draft Analyst, on January 31. Despite his rankings in the forties, it is a very positive report. This part of it stuck out to me:
One of several noticeable aspects of the way he defends is his ability to maintain focus on the puck while taking occasional peeks at possible threats developing elsewhere. Wallinder has a highly-active stick near his own goal but he will drop a quick first step to pounce on a puck in the corner. Even with his back to the wall and under pressure from multiple directions, Wallinder will either use the boards for a bank pass or quickly pivot away from his checker to explode up the ice. He also battles hard for low-slot positioning.
Kournianos has a lot of positive things to say about his skating, his play on the puck on offense, and his work ethic. It is so positive of a report that I have to wonder why Kournianos does not rate him any higher. It could be a function that he prefers the 39 players ahead of him. However, this last part of the profile also suggests why Wallinder is not as highly touted:
Although he can seem overmatched defending against older, more experienced competition, Wallinder’s willingness to learn and improve, coupled with his dominance of junior hockey, makes him an excellent defense prospect with potential for stardom.
The “overmatched” part is in context of his performances in the Allsvenskan, which is a men’s league where the 17-year old Wallinder played sparse minutes. But this sentence is all about “potential.” Wallinder has it. Kournianos recognizes it and pretty much states he has a high ceiling. My reading in between the lines is that Wallinder still has plenty to work on. While all prospects have potential, someone who is both relatively young in the draft class and has a lot of potential carries risk. That may also explain why his ranking is not any higher in Kournianos’ eyes.
There is also another potential issue with Wallinder identified by some who have watched him so far. His defending. More specifically, his lack of attention to it at times. Jokke Nevalainen wrote the following in January in the Observations section of Wallinder’s profile at Dobber Prospects:
Wallinder is a puck-rushing defenseman with great size and a left-handed shot. He loves to join the rush and he’s often times even leading the rush. He is a great skater and has good puck skills which allow him to play that type of a role. But sometimes he has a tendency to keep the puck on his stick for too long. His strengths are mostly in transition and on the rush attack, though, as he isn’t the most natural offensive threat in the offensive zone. His biggest weakness can be found at the other end. At times, he seems disinterested in defending, almost like he’s just waiting for his team to get the puck back so that they can start rushing towards the offensive end once again.
Say what you want about playing defense but a willingness to actually do it is a prerequisite for any success on defense. Kournianos’ profile did not hit on that but did note more about how he looks to push the play forward from his own end. That is generally a good thing but Nevalainen’s observation notes how it can be an issue. Nevalainen also noted that Wallinder did not stand out at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and he had few expectations for him for the World Under-18 Championships, which have since been cancelled. I would like to think that effort can be taught, though.
On March 31, Matt Cosman at The Hockey Writers wrote a profile about Wallinder that bridges the positives and negatives in Wallinder’s game. He even quoted both Kournianos and Nevalainen. This is what Cosman wrote about both ends of his game:
Wallinder skates exceptionally well for such a big guy. He also has deceptively quick hands with the puck, and boasts a heavy shot with a powerful release. He is comfortable quarterbacking a team’s power play, and his tendencies to shoot are backed up by the fact that he rarely misses the net or takes a risky shot that can set an opposition rush into motion.
Defensively, Wallinder knows how to use his size. He does well clearing the front of the net, which makes him a viable option on the penalty kill. He’s not afraid to get physical and go for a big hit, but his aggression can cause him to occasionally lose his positioning. He can also get caught cheating trying to start or join a potential rush before the puck has exited the zone.
Cosman stating “get caught cheating” falls in alignment with not being interested in defending at times, which is what Nevalainen identified. Cosman’s summary of his offensive game adds further support that he has one that is tantalizing. Cosman’s conclusion is that he thinks he will be a NHL defenseman one day and that his issues can be addressed. While it is not at all guaranteed how much of his potential he will meet and whoever picks him will have to work to develop him, but the reward can be worth the effort.
Adding further support to what others have written elsewhere, Ben Kerr’s midseason rankings of the 2020 NHL Draft prospects at Last Word On Hockey has a short piece on Wallinder. Kerr ranked him 25th and had this written about him back on December 19, 2019:
Wallinder has excellent size as he is already 6-foot-4 and may still be growing. He is a very good skater, especially for his size. While he is not a burner, his speed in both directions is good and his stride is powerful. Strong on his skates and with good balance he wins battles on the boards and in front of the net. He is also extremely agile and has good pivots and edgework. Wallinder prefers to use his wrist shot instead of his slap shot. It is powerful and has a good release. He sneaks down from the point to the top of the circles to get his shot off. He is also a good passer. Wallinder needs to work on his defensive zone coverage though. He can sometimes puck watch when he is away from the play, leaving his man open for a pass from a teammate.
While it was nearly four months ago, it is consistent with what others have stated about him since then. Kerr praised his skating, his shot, and his offensive skill. He identified his defensive play as an area for improvement.
At this point, I think it is clear what Wallinder is all about as a player by those who follow and write about prospects. That said, what does he look like while playing? Let us check out some video.
A Little Video
There is only one real video of highlights to watch for Wallinder out on Youtube right now. It is from The Prospect Film Room, which I believe is The Draft Analyst’s account. Here is just over seven minutes of Wallinder performing for MODO. He is the large young man wearing #54.
It does not take long - 21 seconds in - to see how good his shot looks. At about 1:20 in, you can see him fly into the offensive zone, take a pass, deke out a defender, take a shot, and put in his own rebound in one fluid motion. At 1:54, you can see him handle a defensive situation and he appears to handle it well. You can see him move the puck, use his body legally, and help out of his partner. Pretty much all of these appear to be from some junior club tourney as MODO is playing AJHL and NAHL teams. Still, they do showcase his smooth, swift skating and his other positive attributes. As it should since this is a highlight video.
An Opinion of Sorts
There is plenty to like about Wallinder with the big caveat that a lot of his appeal in his potential. He has demonstrated that he is a stand out defender among his peers. While that did not happen in international tournaments, it seemingly did with the MODO Under-20 team. While he played sparsely with the main MODO team, that the organization dressed him for 18 games and already signed him to a two-year contract are signs that he has plenty of room to grow. It strikes me as someone who was too good for his age level but not quite ready for the next level up just yet. It was consistent with how his 2018-19 looked on paper and MODO Hockey is clearly banking on him improving over the next two seasons.
As it stands, Wallinder has demonstrated plenty of desirable traits in a prospect defenseman. Offense does not appear to be a weakpoint given his shot and his offensive sensibilities. His skating looks efficient and he does well in getting from point A to point B. While I can understand that he could stand to be more aware in his own end, I can believe that will come with experience and coaching. While he looks lanky on the ice, he could be even more of a force when he does gain muscle and really grow into his body. I cannot stress enough that all of these things written about him, all of the things he did in 2019-20, and the highlight video were all taken when he was 17. There could be a lot of room for him to grow as a person as well as a player. I can see how some see all of what he has done and both think highly of his future but also at the same time exercise caution about how high to regard him among the 2020 draft class.
Nevalainen’s observations at Dobber Prospects compared Wallinder to a less polished Philip Broberg. Broberg is also a large-framed Swedish defenseman who skates well and has an offensive skillset. Broberg went eighth overall last year. I highly doubt Wallinder will go anywhere close to that high in the draft. But those who are ready to write in the comments about how he would be fine in the second round are likely going to be disappointed. After Drysdale, the class of defensemen is somewhat wide open. Sanderson will likely be the second one picked and then the next group of defenders would consist of Kaiden Guhle, Braden Schneider, Justin Barron, Helge Grans, Emil Andrae, and Jeremie Poirier. Wallinder should be seen as being among that group. His issues are fixable, his strengths are desirable, and it comes in a six-foot-four package that moves rather well on the ice. Sure, anyone who takes him will need to be patient and work with him to address his issues. But he will be 19 when his new contract with MODO will end and the areas of improvement that people have identified in his current game may see some growth before making a jump to North American hockey. It is a risk that I think many teams will be willing to take - especially if they are in the middle to late part of the first round and need a defenseman.
The New Jersey Devils may be in that range. It depends on whether Vancouver makes the playoffs and if they win a round. It is open ended as to whether Wallinder would still be available if that Vancouver pick ends up in the mid-twenties instead of seventeeth overall. But I do think that would be good value in that area. Taking him straight up at 17 would only make sense to me if A) the Devils did not take a defenseman with their first two first rounders and B) management loves his game. It would be a bit of a reach, especially if there are tantalizing forwards left on the board; but it would be a defensible selection. Wallinder’s offensive skillset would absolutely fill a need in the system. If you expect Ty Smith to make the jump, then it behooves New Jersey to have a left-sided defender who has a potentially high ceiling to fill in his spot. If they are willing to work with him closely and Wallinder continues to prosper, then I think Devils fans will be raving about Wallinder’s future. He would not necessarily be my immediate choice with Vancouver’s pick - again, assuming the Devils will have it at all - but I would get it if that was the case.
While he has plenty of room for improvement, I think defenseman William Wallinder would check a lot of boxes for fans who want a prospect defenseman in this year’s draft. Now I want to know what is your take on Wallinder as a prospect. What do you think of his game? What about him impresses you the most? Do you agree he has a lot of potential and will he reach it? Should the Devils strive to take him if they are able? What do you think he will go in this year’s draft? Leave your answers and other thoughts about Wallinder in the comments. Thank you for reading. And one more thing...
One Additional Note about Draft Prospect Profiles to Come at AAtJ
More and more of the draft profiles that we are doing at All About the Jersey will start to head into the later part of the first round and into the second and (maybe) third rounds. New Jersey does not have any picks in the second or third rounds as of this writing. I can understand why you may wonder why we are even bothering to look into those prospects. There are a number of reasons why we are taking this approach.
First, just because a lot of services and media and prospect followers think a prospect should be a top-20 pick or it would be a reach for a prospect to go in the top-20, does not mean it will come to fruition. Teams have their own draft boards and their own preferences in terms of what they value in a prospect. It is why someone like Moritz Seider, who was projected to go in the middle to the latter half of the first round, went sixth overall to Detroit. They loved what he did and so they took no chances to get him. So just because you and I can agree that a prospect should go in the late twenties, it does not mean he will go there. He could go later - or much earlier than anticipated. Likewise, just because you and I can agree that a prospect would be worth a pick in the second or third round, it does not mean he will go there - he could go a lot later. For example, I thought Ty Ronning would go in the middle of the 2016 NHL Draft. He ended up being a seventh rounder. Therefore, it is better to cast as wide of a net as possible for prospects and hope most of them get picked.
Second, there is nothing stopping New Jersey from trading down into the second round in 2020. It may be in their best interest to move the Vancouver pick - assuming they get it - to move down a few spots and pick up a late second or an early third rounder. The 2020 Draft Class has a lot of fluidity within the second round but there is talent to be uncovered. Being more familiar with those prospects will help inform whether there is anyone the Devils should try to target if they do end up trading down. Likewise, if that Vancouver pick ends up being in the mid-20s, then they may as well just take the one they want no matter how many people say he should be in the second round. It gets fluid at that point of the draft.
Third, it is a good practice to get an understanding of the whole draft class beyond who the Devils could be taking. There is not going to be a better time to get a handle on the incoming class of future potential NHL players. While the majority will not be taken by New Jersey - they only have three potential first rounders in the first three rounds - these are players that could be sought after in a future trade or even as a signing. By that point, they will likely be fully developed players but knowing how they were as a prospect gives us another point to understand what they are all about. Further, it will provide a stronger understanding of what the 2020 draft class is all about. We know it is loaded at the top. But what about beyond the first 12 picks? Who are the underrated prospects? Who are the ones that we may lament the Devils passing up on? Who are the ones that we would want the Devils to avoid at all costs? While detailed, these profiles add to that understanding.
Fourth, there really is not anything else to go on with respect to hockey. The NHL is on pause. The AHL is in limbo. All international tourneys, junior leagues (except the MHL?), college leagues, and European leagues either cancelled or ended their seasons already. Since we have no idea what free agency could look like or what 2020-21 could look like or even who is being sought after as the new general manager of the Devils (other than Mike Gillis), there is not a whole lot to go on. The prospect profiles fill in this gap nicely. The prospects are all done on the ice and there are a lot of names to be aware of prior to the 2020 NHL Draft. It is our way to keep the content going for you, the People Who Matter.
If prospects set to go in the late first round or second round are not your bag (or prospects at all), then there are other things to check out. On Garden State of Hockey, Dan and I have gone back watching old Devils games. If you want to know what simulation game would do with the 2019-20 Devils, then every Sunday is a new EHM post. Jeff is putting together some Binghamton-specific posts. Nate is continuing Devils in the Details, which has links to current stories in the world of hockey and is an open post for hockey/Devils discussion.
All I ask is that you do not go into the comments of this and future profiles asking why we even bothered doing a profile on a player the Devils may not be able to pick. Thank you.