Winnipeg Jets Go Back To Finland For Kristian Vesalainen

WHT Prospect Profile: Kristian Vesalainen –

For the second straight year, the Winnipeg Jets selected a Finnish winger with their first pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

On Friday night, a year after “winning” Patrik Laine at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff announced that the Jets would be selecting Kristian Vesalainen (video) from Frölunda of the Swedish Elite League with the 24th pick in the 2017 draft.  This was the first time since the return to Winnipeg that the club picked outside of the top 20.  Winnipeg was originally slated to select 13th overall but that changed Wednesday night after a trade and other shenanigans at the “Expansion Draft”.

Kristian Vesalainen is a budding power forward with size and a lot of it.  The 6’3″, 210-pound product of Helsinki was ranked as high #9 by McKeen’s Hockey.  Bob McKenzie and TSN had him at 15. The young winger has good speed for a big man and knows how to use his size and strength to fight off checks and get to the front of the net.  He has decent passing and a good shot, though his accuracy could use some work.

Vesalainen is very good defensively for his age and a great back checker.  He has a great two-way game and has the ability to play on both wings.  He has experience on the powerplay and on the penalty kill.

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Vesalainen scored 1 goal and 5 assists in 26 games with Frölunda and also scored 4 times in 10 games with the Frölunda junior club (for players under 20 years of age).  He was then loaned to HPK of the Finnish Liiga, where he scored once in 9 games.  The 18-year old also played in the U18 World Junior Championship (WJC) where he put up 6 goals and 13 points in 7 games.  He was tournament MVP and leading scorer at the U18 WJC.  He also scored once and assisted on another in six games for Finland at the U20 WJC as well.

In 2015-16, Vesalainen scored 15 goals and 34 points in 37 games for the Frölunda juniors, to go with a goal and an assist in 19 games with Frölunda.  He also scored 2 goals and 6 points in 7 games with the Finland U18 National team, and 4 goals and 8 points in 5 games with the Finland U17 National team.

Many Jets fans were expecting a defenseman to be coming to Winnipeg in the first round, but instead, we ended up with a player at a position of strength, a winger and while our forward crops were about clogged as they could be prior to the draft, adding another dangerous winger like Vesalainen is never a poor choice.  It’s a good problem to have.  Due to the crowded lineup, it is highly unlikely Vesalainen plays this year with the Jets.  Returning to Europe is likely best for his development anyway.

Another reason to praise this pick is by the time the Jets were up to pick, most of the good defensemen were gone.  Instead of going for a lesser player and picking for need, Chevy took the best player on the board.  He knows he can address needs via trade or free agency.

Some Jets fans are disappointed that we traded down in the draft and that we didn’t take a defenseman, but we are just as likely to have landed an impact player at 24 with Vesalainen than we would be with a defenseman at 13. Vesalainen should be able to play top nine, with the potential to play top six.  If he reaches that potential, this pick is a steal.

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Overall, while many of us had hoped for/expected a defenseman, there is still plenty to be happy about with the selection of Kristian Vesalainen.

Name: Kristian Vesalainen

Position: Winger

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 210 lbs

Shoots: Left

DOB: June 1, 1999

Country: Finland

Team: HPK (Liiga)

Draft: 1st round, 24th overall

Player Comparison: Rick Nash

What did you think of the selection of Kristian Vesalainen?  Leave your opinions in the comment section or tweet me on Twitter @WHTRiley.  I would love to talk hockey with you.



  1. Mitch Kasprick says

    I thought this was a pretty good “value pick” with a lot of upside …. he could be a steal … we’ll know in 2-3 years.

    • Riley Malinowski says

      I agree. I’m hoping we have another hit on our hands as far as first rounders go, even if we are deep at winger. Hopefully he progresses well in the upcoming seasons.

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