Hugo Alnefelt breaks into our top 10 this season as he is set to join the Syracuse Crunch for his first professional season in North America. The 20-year-old goalie spent his last two teenage years on his club team HV71, doing relatively well in 40 games with them. Hugo was a third round pick for the team back in 2019 and is one of the few highly touted young prospects in the Lightning system.
HV71 was a terrible team last year in the SHL and were promptly relegated down to the Allsvenskan. It was a steep decline for them after winning the SHL championship in 2017. Alnefelt has jumped from the sinking ship and has arrived on the shores of Syracuse to play for the Crunch this year in a tandem with Maxime Lagacé.
As a teenager, Hugo was the backup for his team but got a huge proportion of the games for a backup, 42%, so he was solidly in 1B territory. He finished the season with a higher save percentage than the team’s starter, Jonas Gunnarsson. However, he finished with a markedly worse record and a higher goals against average. My reading on that is most likely had bad nights that spiraled — a trait that is common with young goaltenders — or where the team was fully out-classed.
Hugo is still very young and has been highly touted for the three years he’s been in the organization. Alex, Tracey, Justin, and I have been begging for a real goalie prospect on this team — someone who can be around for a while and grow with the roster — and we finally have one.
What to Expect on the Crunch
Alnefelt will be a young 20-year-old when he makes his AHL debut this season, meaning he’s going to have lots of time with the Crunch to develop his game. The fact that he was the 1B already at the age of 19 with HV71 shows that he’ll fit right in with the Crunch’s need for two relatively competent goalies. With all the back-to-backs and expected call-ups, there’s going to be lots of opportunity to play games.
My hope for Hugo this season is for him to show that he can match the quality of play in the AHL and hold his own. The Lightning don’t have very good goalie depth at the moment (Eamon McAdam is signed to a PTO at the moment) so there’s not much of a safety net for the Crunch if Alnefelt needs to go down to the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears at any point. He’s only 20 so it shouldn’t come as a shock or disappointment if he doesn’t come out looking like a rockstar. He has lots of time.
OK, How Much Time?
I wanted to do a bit of an analysis on Alnefelt’s comparables and how they did in their AHL rookie seasons. I decided to look at semi-recent goalies aged 20 or 21 either playing the majority of their time in the AHL after coming over from Europe or getting a full season with the team. This is what I came up with.
Vitek Vanecek played 32 games in the ECHL at the age of 20, he then spent the next three years playing 30+ games a year for the Hershey Bears and is now the Washington Capitals starter (when Ilya Samsonov isn’t getting disciplined) at age 25.
Alex Nedeljkovic split his first season in the AHL and ECHL at the age of 20, struggling in the A (.881) but doing better in the E. He then spent three full seasons with the Charlotte Checkers building up his game before he became the starter for the Carolina Hurricanes at age 24/25. He was then traded to the Detroit Red Wings because the Canes are cheap and didn’t want to pay their young star goalie. What a steal for Steve Yzerman here.
Jake Oettinger had just come out of the NCAA when he turned 20 and got in a few games with the Texas Stars. He played well in his second season, starting over 30 games (.917). His development was accelerated because both Dallas Stars goalies suffered injuries so he’s in the NHL now at the age of 22. He’s a first round pick so he’s done pretty well so far in a relatively insulated defense system.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen split his age-20 season between the AHL and ECHL after posting a .874 with the Rochester Americans. Again, his save percentage has been quite low, but he’s still rated quite highly by the Sabres, who want to get him in more NHL games at some point in the next year.
Justus Annunen was supposed to have his rookie season last year but spent it in Finland instead. He’s entering his first full season with the Colorado Eagles at the age of 21. How Alnefelt compares to him will be very interesting as they were drafted at nearly the same spot a year apart.
Lukas Dostal is another third round pick from 2018 who played a full season with the San Diego Gulls and did amazingly well in his first season, posting a .916. He’s probably the best-case scenario for Alnefelt coming into his first year.
Mads Sogaard is a very big goalie who got his first taste of the AHL last year, but only played seven games. He and Alnefelt are from the 2019 draft, so it’ll be interesting to see how they line up against each other.
It’s more likely than not we’ll have to see some growing pains out of Hugo Alnefelt in his first year. This is nothing to worry about because every goaltender I looked at who was in the same situation had similar struggles.
What this tells me is the Lightning should probably make sure they lock up some insurance goalies into their system because Brian Elliott is very old and probably not very good anymore and the Crunch will probably end up pretty thin in net as a result of pulls from both directions if Alnefelt needs to go to the ECHL.
I’m excited for Hugo, I think he’s going to learn a lot this season and maybe he’ll surprise us. I think it’s quite possible we see him in the top five of our prospect ranking a year from now.