Jets’ confident young Finn a fan of Laine’s finish

Give Kristian Vesalainen this much: the kid doesn’t lack confidence.

There he was Wednesday, the Winnipeg Jets’ brightest young prospect not currently playing pro hockey, under the media spotlight in the middle of the organization’s summer development camp. And the inevitable question came up about what similarities he might share with fellow Finn Patrik Laine, who has quickly established himself as one of the elite scorers in the entire NHL.

“I think I’m a little bit more all-around player,” was Vesalainen’s response.

That’s certainly plenty of moxie from someone who turned 19 just a few weeks ago and hasn’t played a single second in the greatest league in the world. But it’s the kind of answer that no doubt brings a smile to the face of many in the organization who believe the sky is the limit when it comes to his potential.

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 60 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Join free for 60 days

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 60 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Give Kristian Vesalainen this much: the kid doesn’t lack confidence.

There he was Wednesday, the Winnipeg Jets’ brightest young prospect not currently playing pro hockey, under the media spotlight in the middle of the organization’s summer development camp. And the inevitable question came up about what similarities he might share with fellow Finn Patrik Laine, who has quickly established himself as one of the elite scorers in the entire NHL.

“I think I’m a little bit more all-around player,” was Vesalainen’s response.

That’s certainly plenty of moxie from someone who turned 19 just a few weeks ago and hasn’t played a single second in the greatest league in the world. But it’s the kind of answer that no doubt brings a smile to the face of many in the organization who believe the sky is the limit when it comes to his potential.

Now, he was quick to point out Laine is well-ahead of him when it comes to one particular skill. At least for now.

Manitoba Moose Sami Niku.

Manitoba Moose Sami Niku.

“He has a better shot than me. That’s the one thing we’re apart,” said Vesalainen, who is no slouch himself when it comes to shooting pucks with precision and potency.

“Yeah, absolutely, but not on (Laine’s) level. Its a good shot though,” he said

Top prospects

A quick look at five of the Jets’ top prospects and their chances for finding full-time NHL work in the fall.

F Kristian Vesalainen, 19

Had a stellar season in Finland and hopes those skills help him turn pro in North America when camp opens. Will certainly be given every opportunity crack the Jets’ opening-day roster, but a stint with the Moose certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world.

A quick look at five of the Jets’ top prospects and their chances for finding full-time NHL work in the fall.

F Kristian Vesalainen, 19

Had a stellar season in Finland and hopes those skills help him turn pro in North America when camp opens. Will certainly be given every opportunity crack the Jets’ opening-day roster, but a stint with the Moose certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Manitoba Moose Mason Appleton.

Manitoba Moose Mason Appleton.

D Sami Niku, 21,

Made a memorable NHL debut last season, scoring a goal in his first game. Had a stellar rookie season with the Moose (16 goals, 38 assists in 76 regular-season games) and was named the AHL’s top defenceman, an incredible distinction for a first-year player. Will certainly push for regular NHL work in the fall but may still require more seasoning on the farm, especially with the defensive part of his game.

Manitoba Moose Brendan Lemieux.

Manitoba Moose Brendan Lemieux.

F Mason Appleton, 22

The reigning AHL rookie of the year burst onto the scene with 22 goals and 44 assists with the Moose. Still waiting to make his NHL debut, he’s a good bet to at least get a brief look with the Jets.

Manitoba Moose Goalie Eric Comrie.

Manitoba Moose Goalie Eric Comrie.

F Brendan Lemieux, 22

The feisty forward appeared in seven NHL games this season, scoring his first goal. Had a solid second year with the Moose, scoring 19 goal and adding 24 assists in 51 games. Posted 170 penalty minutes; keeping his temper in check remains a work-in-progress.

G Eric Comrie, 22

Injury and call-ups to the Jets limited him to just 34 Moose games this season, and three more with the Jets. Posted a 2.58 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in the AHL. He’ll be the No. 1 netminder on the farm in the fall and the first recall option for the Jets behind the tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Steve Mason.

But could he one day be just as lethal?

“We’ll see. Hopefully some day,” he said.

Vesalainen went on to explain that he plays more like a power winger and tries to model his game after Evgeni Malkin, one of his NHL idols.

“Absolutely. I attack more and (have) been more aggressive and good in the corner battles, so yeah, for sure,” he said.

And the clean-shaven teen showed he had a good sense of humour when asked to weigh in on Laine’s infamous beard.

“Oh, that’s a tough one, actually. If we’re going to be honest, I don’t like that. But he’s going to do what he wants. I’m going to say no to that,” he said.

Winnipeg selected the six-foot-three, 207-pound forward 24th overall in the first round of last summer’s draft, then watched as he had a terrific season playing in the top men’s league in Finland. Vesalainen is planning to turn pro in the fall, competing for work with the Jets or starting the year with the Manitoba Moose, if necessary.

Contract talks are underway with the organization, Vesalainen confirmed Wednesday.

“That’s my plan. So hopefully we’re going to get that done,” he said.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said this week he isn’t anticipating any issues on that front while raving about Vesalainen’s development.

“So, he went and had a real solid season, a real stable season right from start to finish. He had a good year on the offensive side of it, got traded and had an opportunity to win a championship over there which is always an important part of any player’s development, to be able to go through that rigour. And then just on the personal side, it was a great growth year for him,” said Cheveldayoff.

“We’ve had some preliminary conversations with his representative there, it’s all just part of the process. We would hope that he’ll be here and it’ll be a great challenge at training camp for him to try and push his way onto the Jets.”

Vesalainen put up the kinds of numbers this year rarely seen by a player his age.

He had 19 goals and 20 assists in 44 games with HPK Hameenlinna of the Finnish Elite League, otherwise known as Liiga. He was then traded to top-ranked Karpat late in the year, scoring three goals and adding an assist in five games. He added four goals and four assists in 18 more playoff games on the way to winning the championship.

To put his numbers in perspective, only three Finnish players posted more points in a single regular-season in that league prior to hitting their 19th birthday. (Teemu Pulkkinen, Aleksander Barkov and Sebastian Aho).

“It’s not usual. He’s a special kid, I think,” Antti Pennanen, his coach with HPK, told the Free Press earlier this year. “This is something that doesn’t happen.”

Vesalainen first turned heads on an international stage in early 2017 when he was named MVP of the IIHF Under-18 World Championship. He had six goals and seven assists in seven games for Finland, which captured silver.

Vesalainen didn’t attend training camp with the Jets last year, signing a one-year deal to play in Europe. Finland went 2-2-0 in round-robin play at the World Junior Championship, but was eliminated in the quarter-finals with a shootout loss to the Czech Republic. Vesalainen led the team in scoring with two goals and four assists in five games.

Now he’s got his sights set on the pro game. He’s been hampered by a minor upper-body injury at development camp this week and has yet to skate with the full group. He’s aiming to do that Thursday.

“It’s been great. It’s nice to know there are new people that have been drafted. It’s been cool,” Vesalainen said of the experience so far in Winnipeg.

His goals over the summer are to improve his puck skills while getting ready for the big move. His parents are expected to come with him to help him adjust. And Vesalainen said it’s nice to have so many Finnish-born players in Winnipeg, including Laine, Joel Armia and Sami Niku.

“Absolutely. It’s more fun to have some Finns in the team and talk with your own language. It’s helping a lot,” he said.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography