2016-17 Team: Frölunda (SHL), on loan to HPK (Liiga)
Date of Birth: June 1, 1999
Place of Birth: Helsinki, Finland
Ht: 6’3” Wt: 209 lbs
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2017 first-year eligible
- THW Alternate Rankings: 35th (May)
- Future Considerations: 24th (Spring)
- Bob McKenzie: 19th (Mid-season)
- ISS: 19th (April)
- Craig Button: 29th (March)
Praised as a superstar in the making, Kristian Vesalainen debuted in the Swedish Hockey League as a 16-year-old. Remarkable, yes – but what’s even more interesting is the turn of events that took place in the 2016-17 season, when he looked to extend his booming rise. That never happened, at least not in Frölunda. Instead, the young Finn found himself left out of the lineup and was subsequently loaned to HPK in Finland. You’re right to assume that it wasn’t the experience Vesalainen wanted leading up to the NHL draft.
“It was a horrible season,” Vesalainen said to Iita-Sanomat, questioning the treatment from his coaches. “When I got back to Frölunda after my time at HPK and the World Juniors, the coaches didn’t talk to me. They weren’t interested in knowing how my time there had been or how my form was like.”
It may have been a bump in the road, but still, this big-sized power forward offers great potential. As shown in the U18 World Junior Championships 2017, Vesalainen can be a game-changing leader for his team. His combination of strength and speed makes him a dangerous weapon offensively – no matter if he’s playing against men twice his age. Even though he has been criticized for not executing enough on the scoring chances he creates, Vesalainen also has a heavy shot to improve on. You wish he would use it more convincingly.
NHL Draft Projection
After an impressive performance at the U18 World Juniors, Vesalainen climbed the draft rankings and is expected to go in the final third of the first round.
“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…a powerful, long stride allows him to build impressive speed and makes him tough to stop…has the agility and balance as well as the strength and reach to really control possession in traffic and down low…defensively, he brings imposing pressure on the forecheck…not always playing at full intensity or with consistent effort…when he wants to, he can absolutely dominate physically…just a toolsy player with very high potential.” – Future Considerations
“Vesalainen is a big-sized winger who has a high impact on games, even in the SHL against men. He skates with powerful strides and great determination to make plays and open up ice. Possesses a hard shot and good release.” – Dennis Schellenberg, Hockey Prospectus
- Good usage of size and speed
- Can single-handedly set up scoring chances
- Heavy shot
- Ability to initiate momentum for his team
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Needs more consistency to his game
- Has potential to be much more productive in terms of points
Given his role as an offensive power forward, Vesalainen should project as a top-nine forward in the NHL. He could make an impact on a top line as well as on a checking line.
Risk – 3,5/5, Reward – 4,5/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offense – 9 /10, Defence – 7,5/10
When Kristian Vesalainen made his senior level debut at the age of 16, he became the youngest foreign player to do so in the SHL. Since then, he has won both the SHL trophy and the Champions Hockey League with Frölunda. And for his national team, he followed up a U18 WJC gold medal from 2016 with a silver medal in 2017. Vesalainen ended the latter edition as the leading scorer and was awarded as the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
Freelance sports journalist settled in Malmo, Sweden. Author on the official site of the Swedish Hockey League. Cover Swedish prospects on their road to the NHL, and Swedish players making it in the NHL.