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GISTEDT 'PROJECTS' AHEAD OF 2007 CLASS

Tuesday, 06.26.2007 / 8:11 PM / Features
NHL.com
GISTEDT 'PROJECTS' AHEAD OF 2007 CLASS

By: John McGourty
NHL.com Staff Writer

Hockey executives will tell you that the key to the draft is "projecting" how an 18-year-old athlete will develop in four or five years. That's the situation in most cases. The majority of the players taken in the 2007 Entry Draft in Columbus, Ohio, on June 22-23 will be 18 or within a few months of that birthday.

But Europeans have nearly a three-year eligibility period under the rules of the draft. Joel Gistedt (300K / 700K ), rated the No. 1 European goalie in the draft, is 19 and will be 20 in December. Not only is he older than his competition, he's already playing at the professional level in the Swedish Elite League.

Thus, the projection period for Gistedt is shorter by 18 months than for most of his rivals.

"I was eligible for the draft last year -- I was born in December 1987 -- but I wasn't taken," Gistedt said.

It must have been disappointing then, but for financial reasons it was the best thing that could have happened. It's unlikely any other player eligible for this year's draft raised his stock more.

A year ago, Gistedt was coming off a season in which he split goaltending duties for the Frolunda Indians junior team, playing in only 19 games. He was promoted to the Frolunda parent club last season, one of three goalies the team carried early in the season. Gistedt got his break when the team, along with starting goaltender Tommy Salo, stumbled early.

Gistedt was given a chance and responded with a 17-13-4 record in 35 games while posting a 2.58 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage.

What that means is that Gistedt's rating was based on his play against men of all ages while almost all of the rest of his competition was scouted while playing against boys their own age.

"I didn't know what to expect," Gistedt explained at the recent Central Scouting Combine in Toronto. "I was one of only two 18-year-old goalies in the Swedish Elite League and didn't know how much I would play but after we started poorly, I started to get more opportunities. Going into the season, we thought we had a good team but we finished in the bottom four."

Gistedt also raised his stock in the World Junior Championships in December and January in Leksand, Sweden. The host team played the United States in the bronze-medal game, dropping a tough 2-1 decision. If it's any consolation to Gistedt and his Swedish teammates, the goals were scored by players expected to be the No. 1 overall selections in consecutive drafts.

Gistedt stopped a shot by Erik Johnson, taken No. 1 last year by the St. Louis Blues, but the rebound was banged home by Pat Kane, rated the No. 1 North American skater in this year's draft. Johnson then scored the deciding goal.

"That was a tough game and we played well," Gistedt said. "I don't think most people thought we had a better team than Canada, Russia or the United States but we gave the U.S. a tough game."

Swedish national teammate Joakim Andersson, the No. 5 ranked European skater expects Gistedt will play in the National Hockey League. He likes his confidence and his skills.

"Gistedt's not that big, but he's a very highly skilled goalie," Andersson said. "Joel is a great skater and puck handler and he's very quick in his movements."

Gistedt was thrown into the goaltender role in typical fashion, but he quickly came to love it and has gotten progressively better.

"I've been playing goal since I was 10-years-old," Gistedt said. "I was the youngest in the family and my brothers needed someone to shoot at. I liked it a lot."

Gistedt is expected to be drafted in the first round or early in the second round. The financial difference between being drafted in the first round this year compared to the sixth or seventh round last year is likely to be profound. You can take that to the bank and Joel Gistedt undoubtedly will.

"Why should a team take me? Watch me play," Gistedt said. "I think that's the most important thing, how you play and how you compete. Even though I think I'm a good goalie and other people have said that, I know I have lots of important steps to take and I'm willing to do the work. I haven't reached my best yet and I have plenty more to give."
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