A roster spot in the NHL isn’t exactly guaranteed this season for Kristian Vesalainen, but we do know for sure that he will be playing hockey in North America this time around. Unlike last season when he opted to go back overseas and play the rest of the season with Jokerit of the KHL after a failed attempt to stick with the Jets, Vesalainen has no such clause in his entry level deal this time around.
Vesalainen’s combination of size and skating ability along with his offensive skills and shooting ability have Jets fans giddy with anticipation as the next young star to graduate from Winnipeg’s draft and develop system into a key part of the team’s top six forward group.
- Born: Jun 1, 1999 (Age 20)
- Birthplace: Helsinki, FIN
- Position: Left Wing / Right Wing
- Handedness: Left
- Frame: 6’4″ / 207 lbs
- Drafted: 2017 – 1st Round – 24 Overall
- Played Last Year: Manitoba Moose (AHL) / Jokerit (KHL) / Winnipeg Jets (NHL)
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“Obviously, I make my own decisions and have to go with that,” Vesalainen said during Jets development camp in June. “But I thought the KHL season went fine (17 points in 31 games). It just [ended] pretty quick there, so I came back. I just want to play hockey, so it was nice for me to come back here and play a little bit more.”
Vesalainen determined to stick with Jets this season – NHL.com (Jul 26, 2019)
“I want him to own that confidence,” Manitoba Moose head coach Pascal Vincent said, Thursday. “I want him to go there and try to be a difference maker. He’s fighting for a spot with the Jets. He’s got experience now. “And we’re going to give him a letter. He’s going to be an assistant captain… so yeah, I want him to take charge.”
Jets want Vesalainen to ‘take charge’ – Winnipeg Sun (Sep 5, 2019)
What We Said At The Time:
The Jets went so far as to say that if they would’ve kept the 13th overall pick instead of trading it to Vegas, they would still have used it on Vesalainen. While it raised dubious eyebrows at the time, it looks like they’d have been smart to do so now.
What We Say Now:
Kristian last year was prone to streaky play – partly due to trying to adjust to the North American game with Winnipeg and Manitoba, and partly due to his youthful inexperience later on in the KHL season. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind for the 20 year old the last year or so, but now with the certainty of where he’ll be playing this season (or at least, which continent he’ll be on) and knowing what will be expected of him from the Jets, he can focus a little more of settling in.
Vesalainen can do so much on offense when he’s on his game. He has a lethal shot that has drawn comparisons to fellow countryman Patrik Laine in terms of how quick he gets it off and how heavy it is. He has deceptive speed for a player his size which makes him hard to deal with on the rush. If those two things weren’t enough, his size also allows him to be a very strong net front presence which is something he’s shown an ability to do in the Finnish League with HPK and Karpat.
Barring a stellar camp with multiple point games, it is possible that the Jets keep Vesalainen stashed away in the AHL to start the 2019-20 season, but he should be one of the first call-ups should there be any injuries for the team to deal with.
Vesalainen has all the tools needed for a top tier forward, the Jets have confidence in his maturity (this past weekend at the weekend showcase, he wore an assistant captains ‘A’) and he showed flashes of future brilliance in the brief time he was with the Moose last season.
This will likely be Vesalainen’s first and only appearance on this list because by this time next year he should have nearly a full NHL season under his belt.