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Kristian Vesalainen’s first foray into North American pro hockey may be short-lived, if the 2017 first-rounder can’t crack the opening-day lineup of the Winnipeg Jets.
Vesalainen’s recently-signed three-year entry-level contract includes a clause that lets him go back to Europe for the coming season if he’s not playing in the NHL.
“I don’t know, I have to see after the camp what I’m going to do. I haven’t (thought) about it so much,” the 19-year-old Finnish winger said Thursday at Bell MTS Iceplex.
“Obviously it’s good to have options, so if I don’t feel home here it’s easy to go to Finland one more year and come back. It’s good to have options, but I don’t have any plans for that.”
Vesalainen got in one more skate with fellow prospects before they boarded a plane bound for British Columbia, where they’ll play a pair of games Friday night and Sunday afternoon against Vancouver Canucks prospects in the annual “Young Stars” event.
“It’ll be pretty cool to play here for the first time with the Jets organization. It’s something I’ve been waiting for. It’s going to be nice to go on the ice with the guys,” said Vesalainen, who put up impressive numbers last season playing pro in his home country.
The 6-3, 207-pounder said he worked on becoming quicker this summer while also taking some much-needed downtime to rest up after a hectic year that included playing in the World Juniors and an extended playoff run.
“I worked on speed and explosiveness, so I had a pretty good summer practice season,” he said.
Vesalainen said he hasn’t spent much time studying the Jets’ depth chart and worrying about where or how he might fit in right off the hop.
“Obviously there’s a lot of good guys in the lineup. So we have to look (at) that. And I have to play pretty good and have a good training camp, so we’ll see after that,” he said.
Moose coach Pascal Vincent, who will be behind the bench for the Young Stars games, said this is an important first step for Vesalainen.
“He can shoot the puck. We’ll see, it’s way too early, but a good sign is he can shoot the puck. You look at his stats it’s quite interesting. The adjustment, sometimes it takes a little bit longer, sometimes it’s really quick. So time will tell us,” Vincent said Thursday.
Vesalainen has already spent some time with countrymen Patrik Laine and Sami Niku since getting into town earlier this week.
“It’s like home here now. And there’s two Swedish guys, also, so it’s easy here,” he said.
Niku had a terrific North American pro debut last year for the Moose, being named the AHL’s defenceman of the year, and gave Vesalainen some advice about transitioning from the larger European ice surface.
“He had a really good season, so it’s easier to come here and have that confidence that somebody else has done it, too,” he said. “It’s going to be a fast game, so you don’t have so much time as you have in the Finnish League. Maybe that’s the biggest thing.”
Laine said he’s anxious to see what Vesalainen can bring to the organization.
“It’s hard to say, but he seems like a good player. Excited to see how he’s doing when camp starts,” said Laine. “He’s a strong, big guy and can for sure take advantage of that.”
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.