Finnish winger Kristian Vesalainen began this season at the top of many draft boards. In October, ISS Hockey ranked Vesalainen the sixth-best prospect in the 2017 Draft class, but the 17-year-old fell to 19th in their final ranking. This was largely because the teenager struggled professionally in the Swedish Hockey League and Liiga in Finland, where he managed just seven points in 35 games.
Vesalainen’s size (6-foot-4, 209 lbs) masked the fact that he was still just a teenager playing in a league against men, which is a tough adjustment for any player. But the tools that scouts fell in love with are still there, and were on full display at the under-18 World Junior Championships when Vesalainen scored 13 points in 7 games. His pro struggles may have scared some scouts, but should not deter the San Jose Sharks when they make their first selection with the 19th overall pick tonight.
Far from just a big body, Vesalainen is also a good skater and stickhandler. He has a quick release and a strong shot, as well as creative passing ability. Vesalainen is close to the total package offensively, and can beat defenders in a variety of ways.
Scouts are mixed on Vesalainen’s defensive ability. Future Considerations noted that he is “not always playing at full intensity or with consistent effort,” while SabresProspect.com’s Kris Baker described him as a committed back-checker. Habs Eyes on the Prize’s Scott Matta wrote that the skillset is there for him to be an effective defensive forward:
Vesalainen is more than capable of holding his own on the defensive side of the puck. He jams lanes well with his positioning, and with his monstrous wingspan he can use his stick to easily swat pucks out of dangerous areas. His great skating ability allows him to backcheck easily and force turnovers from the opposition.
Questions surrounding Vesalainen’s production are a concern, but he’s still so young, and can be expected to improve as he becomes more comfortable with the pro game and as he matures. He’ll need time to develop, but the Sharks don’t have many prospects on the wing that offer such an intriguing mix of size, speed, and skill. That combination makes Vesalainen a potential no-brainer if he’s available with the 19th pick.
Kristian Vesalainen 2017 NHL Draft profile | SB Nation NHL Dra...
NHL Draft prospect Kristian Vesalainen has the frame and skill to be a solid power forward in the NHL.Posted by SB Nation NHL on Monday, June 12, 2017
Name: Kristian Vesalainen
Position: Left Wing/Right Wing
Hometown: Helsinki, FIN
2016-17: Frölunda HC (SHL) / HPK (Liiga) / Frölunda HC J20 (SuperElit)
2015-16: Frölunda HC / Frölunda HC J20 (SuperElit)
2014-15: HIFK (U20/U18/U16)
ISS Hockey: 19
Future Considerations: 17
McKeen’s Hockey: 9
NHL CSS: 7 (EU)
- Offensive skill
Areas of Improvement
- Establishing consistency at professional level