Name: William Wallinder
Team: MODO Hockey (Allsvenskan and SuperElit)
Stats: 37 games played, 5 goals, 19 assists, 24 points, 16 PIMs, +1 plus/minus rating (SuperElit)
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 14th (European skaters)
Comparable NHL player: Philippe Myers
My previous iteration in this series of draft prospect profiles was about Swedish defenseman Helge Grans, so it makes sense to make this post about a very similar Swedish defender in William Wallinder.
The shared nation of birth is not the only notable similarity between Grans and Wallinder. Both blueliners have great size, are excellent skaters, can make impressive plays with the puck from time to time, and spent parts of their 2019-20 seasons playing in professional leagues. However, both guys also have similar weaknesses with their consistency and their ability to defend.
The two areas where Wallinder has an edge, though, are in his size and his mobility. He’s a little bigger than Grans (at roughly 6-foot-4 compared to 6-foot-3) and has a longer wingspan, which gives him more reach with his stick. At the NHL level, where space is always in high demand, that extra inch or two can make a huge difference when it comes to poking pucks and breaking up plays.
In terms of skating, Wallinder is a real delight to watch. He is incredibly light and smooth on his feet, able to make quick stops, shifts and turns without having to exert much energy. Like his long wingspan, he also has a long skating stride, and he can cover tons of ice in an instant because his mechanics are clean and he gets full extension on each push.
Wallinder’s hands and puck control aren’t exactly elite, but they are well above average for a defender of his size. He usually doesn’t fight the puck when receiving it or carrying it, and can make a confident deke or wide swing if necessary to avoid pressure. When his feet and hands work in conjunction he is capable of lugging the puck from end to end in a matter of seconds.
The Sollefteå native also earns marks for how poised and composed he is. He just never seems to get rattled or thrown off of his game, no matter what’s happening around him. Pressure will be coming toward him, but he’ll get the puck, make a move and suddenly there’s more open space than there was before.
At the same time, there’s also a flip side of the coin when it comes to Wallinder’s composure, and it ties in to his issues with consistency as well. Simply put, he can be a little too lackadaisical at times. It’s one thing to be calm and steady, but sometimes the pace of play picks up and players need to respond accordingly. There are many instances in a game where that little extra effort, that one last big push, can be the difference-maker between something important happening or not happening for your team, and this sense doesn’t seem to come naturally for Wallinder..
While Wallinder has all the tools needed to be an impact player in transition, he doesn’t use them quite enough. Too often he’s happy to make a simple first pass to one of his forwards but then hang back, glide and then watch his mates handle things up ice from there. He will occasionally try to be “the guy” and take matters into his own hands, but it’s not exactly a common occurrence. His passivity can also apply to his defending, as you’d like to see him pinch up more often to break up plays in the neutral zone, as well as to show more assertiveness when preventing zone entries and stopping cycles. Something I wrote about Grans is that I liked how he “plays on his toes,” even though the results aren’t always successful, and I’d like to see Wallinder take a big step forward in this area.
Wallinder is a hard player to get a confident read on because, at this point in time, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what he is and what he can become. He’s not an especially useful offensive contributor, as his shot is surprisingly weak, his passing isn’t overly crisp and his playmaking vision seems limited. He’s also not the most reliable defensively, for reasons I outlined in the paragraph above.
However, what will likely make Wallinder a high pick in the 2020 draft are his tools and just how much raw, untapped upside he still possesses. He doesn’t yet have a lot of muscle on his huge frame, he didn’t spend his 2018-19 season in the SuperElit (which most top prospects out of Sweden do), and with a birthday in late July he’s on the younger side for this draft class. All of this is to say that he’s far from a finished product, and he could take enormous strides as a player in the next five years or so as an NHL team develops him. There’s also some wiggle room about what he will develop into. A club could prioritize building up the offensive or defensive side of his game, depending on what they need most in their organization.
At the top of this article I compared Wallinder to Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Philippe Myers. Myers and his development have always fascinated me. He went completely undrafted in his first year of eligibility in 2015, but a few months later was signed to an ELC by the Flyers. He took a huge step forward in his next QMJHL season, helping Rouyn-Noranda win a championship, and in his final year in junior he was one of the best players in the entire league and played an important role on Canada’s roster at the 2017 World Juniors. At 22 he became a full-time NHLer in Philadelphia. In the same way that the Flyers were able to develop Myers into something special, I believe there’s potential for an NHL team to do this with Wallinder as well.
How high will Wallinder go in the 2020 draft? That’s difficult to say, given how much work needs to be done with his long-term development and the risks inherent in such a gamble. But don’t be surprised if a team reaches for him ahead of other, more well-known names and, when it’s all said and done down the road, looks genius for doing so.