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Scouting the 2017 NHL draft: Kristian Vesalainen has all the tools to succeed in the NHL

He’s big, he’s fast, and he’s got the offensive talent to be a star in the NHL. If Vesalianen can put it all together, he’ll be one heck of a prospect.

MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 03: Kristian Vesalainen #34 of Team Finland pokes the puck as he falls near Rihards Puide #9 of Team Latvia during the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Minas Panagiotakis / Contributor, Getty Images

The biggest knock on Kristian Vesalainen’s game is that it’s very raw. He’s big, fast, skilled, but has a long way to go in terms of learning the nuances of playing hockey at the highest level.

Starting the season as a consensus top-10 pick, Kristian Vesalainen has steadily dropped down the draft rankings after suffering through a bit of a tough season in Finland. He’s now mainly ranked mostly in the mid-20s, though that is likely to change after he was absolutely dominant at the U18 World Championship a couple weeks ago.

Some scouts describe Vesalainen as a poor man's Jesse Puljujarvi, which is to suggest Vesalainen is a big, strong winger who can skate and score, though he isn't considered to have the elite skill and power of Edmonton's fourth overall pick last season.

But he still has all the tools to be an NHL-caliber winger. Eight of 10 scouts surveyed pegged him in the Top 10.

That is what Bob McKenzie wrote in his pre-season draft rankings last September. Since then, Vesalainen had a less than desirable draft season playing for in three different leagues across two countries.

With that said, Vesalainen was a 17-year old kid, in a foreign country (for most of the year) playing in a league that saw only ten U18 players record a point this season. Playing for Frolunda in the SHL for the first part of the season, his 6 points in 26 games equaled the entire season production of any other player his age. Getting regular ice time in the SHL as a 17-year old is hard enough - being able to produce is even harder.

Notable point per game production during U18 SHL season

Vesalainen is a player that you draft if you’re willing to be patient. He’s already built like a man, so the temptation will be there to rush him along - that probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Despite his struggles at times this year, whenever he plays against guys his own age, he’s absolutely dominant. A year ago, Vesalainen was very good playing up a year at the U18s, this year at the same tournament, he was the best forward there - and no one else was close.

"A big and strong winger who has the ability to impact the game in many ways…plays a versatile, high-tempo offensive game…battles for pucks and space…a beast along the wall and difficult to move in front of the net…mixes a heavy game with very soft, skilled hands…possesses a very hard shot with quick release…makes soft, easy-to-control passes to his teammates…dangerous anytime he has the puck in the offensive zone" - Future Considerations

"Scouts like the size and potential, but the lack of production concerns many." - Jeff Marek

Despite his “lack of production” this season, when Bob McKenzie polled NHL executives and scouts at the end of April, Vesalainen was still viewed as top-15 pick - putting him squarely in the range of Steve Yzerman and the Lightning. He would instantly be at or near the top of the prospect left-wing depth chart. The fact that he’d be eligible to play next season with Syracuse as an 18-year old would be a bonus that could go a long way to speeding up his development.

Kristian Vesalainen Career Statistics

Season Team League GP G A TP PIM
Season Team League GP G A TP PIM
2012-2013 HIFK U16 Jr. C SM-sarja Q 4 2 3 5 0
HIFK U16 Jr. C SM-sarja 5 0 0 0 0
2013-2014 HIFK U16 Jr. C SM-sarja Q 9 8 12 20 0
HIFK U16 Jr. C SM-sarja 28 18 21 39 8
HIFK U18 Jr. B SM-sarja 9 1 1 2 0
HJK U18 Jr. B Mestis 3 2 3 5 2
2014-2015 HIFK U16 Jr. C SM-sarja 0 0 0 0 0
HIFK U18 Jr. B SM-sarja 18 10 5 15 29
HIFK U20 Jr. A SM-liiga 17 1 1 2 0
Finland U17 WHC-17 6 3 2 5 4
Finland U17 EYOF 3 2 1 3 2
Finland U17 (all) International-Jr 24 8 5 13 8
2015-2016 Frölunda HC Champions HL 3 0 0 0 0
Frölunda HC J18 J18 Allsvenskan 0 0 0 0 0
Finland U18 Hlinka Memorial 5 0 0 0 0
Frölunda HC J20 SuperElit 37 15 19 34 0
Frölunda HC SHL 19 1 1 2 0
Finland U17 WHC-17 5 4 4 8 4
Finland U18 WJC-18 7 2 4 6 6
2016-2017 Frölunda HC Champions HL 6 2 1 3 0
Frölunda HC J20 SuperElit 10 4 0 4 14
Frölunda HC SHL 26 1 5 6 2
HPK Liiga 9 1 0 1 0
Finland U18 WJC-18 7 6 7 13 8
Finland U20 WJC-20 6 1 1 2 0
Finland U20 (all) International-Jr 12 4 3 7 4
2017-2018 HPK Liiga - - - - -

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