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Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25: #10 Hugo Alnefelt

Alnefelt played in all three leagues last season, but the key is still development

NHL: OCT 01 Preseason - Hurricanes at Lightning
TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 01: Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Hugo Alnefelt (60) makes a save on a shot from Carolina Hurricanes center Jack Drury (72) in the first period of the NHL Preseason game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning on October 01, 2021 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL.
Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite a tough season filled with injuries — but also a taste of the NHL! — Hugo Alnefelt has not moved a single position in our Top 25 Under 25, ending up 10th last year and this year, by both the writers and readers. The Syracuse Crunch goalie, who played his rookie season as the backup for the team, will be looking to take moments of success and turn them into stretches of good results.

The Player

A third round pick in 2019, Hugo Alnefelt is a recently-turned 21-year-old Swedish goaltender who played his rookie season in the AHL last season. Before coming to North America, Alnefelt played two seasons in the SHL as the backup on HV71, a team that struggled so badly they got relegated for the following season. During those two years, he also started for Team Sweden at the Men’s World Juniors, winning a bronze medal in his first season.

Last season was a tough year for Hugo, as he dealt with three injuries that left him out for about a month each. His season included a conditioning stint with the Orlando Solar Bears early in the season (swapped with Amir Miftakhov), and an emergency call up to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the end of December where he allowed three goals on 10 shots in the third period of a blowout loss to the Florida Panthers. That was also the game I mentioned in my last T25 article about Sean Day. I kind of feel bad bringing it back up over and over again.

Like I said before, Alnefelt had good moments with the Crunch last season, but he didn’t seem able to get into a good groove with the injuries often shutting down his progress. His best month last season, February, saw him post a .914 in four games. His middle chunk of the season saw him post a .906 in 10 games across January and February.

None of these numbers are great even from an optimistic perspective, but Alnefelt came into the league only at 20-years-old and among U21 goalies in the AHL, only about a quarter of them reach above a .900 save percentage when they’re that young. Obviously there have been successful goalies in the NHL who were successful right out of the box, but recent comparables to Hugo are Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Erik Gustavsson, both of whom are in the NHL now and whom I could consider comparables to Alnefelt based on league experience in Europe and at the World Juniors.

My expectations for Alnefelt last season were low because there is still so much room for him to grow as a goalie. It would’ve been nice if he had cleared the bar that was set for him with flying colors, but he merely hit the bar instead. For those reasons I think it’s fitting he ended up on par with where he was last season and stays in 10th.

I hope his season with the Syracuse Crunch sees him propel into a tandem role with Max Lagace and get consistent starts again. This season needs to be bigger, however, and he’s in a good position to do it with what looks like a stronger Crunch team around him and more time at Lightning development camps. He’s at the rookie tournament with the team right now and he seems to be doing okay. I think the gap between him and the older goalie prospect, Miftakhov (who has returned to Russia), is disappearing as they both age.

Highlights and Analysis

Two opposing things stand out to me after watching Alnefelt last season and trying to acquire as many public highlights as I could from him; 1. He has incredible reflexes especially with his feet but also his hands, and 2. His skating forces him to make bigger saves than he should have to.

Thinking about the transition to the NHL, that quickness and flexibility will be critical in stopping subtle deflections off sticks and skates that are coming a lot more quickly and chaotically than in the AHL, so it’s a very valuable skill to have (we all know Andrei Vasilevskiy uses it to great advantage). But one of the benefits of being quicker on your feet is that it doesn’t work you as hard and it gives you better chances to stop those second and third rebound shots.

I would really like to see improved skating this season, especially laterally when he’s going post to post trying to track cross-blueline passes. Being quicker will ironically let him slow down more and play within himself. What I don’t want to see is him getting reliant on his reflexes to make up for his skating. This is something that I personally know made Garrett Sparks both highly touted and gastly overrated because his mechanics were just awful underneath a big, lanky frame that could go on hot streaks.

Alnefelt is still young, he’s in no rush, so I hope he and the development team are building his tools properly. I don’t think I’m going to worry about this too much because I trust Frantz Jean with my life if my life depended on finding goalies.