It's been an interesting season for Finland's Kristian Vesalainen. After putting up 22 goals and 43 points in 49 games with HPK Hameenlinna and Karpat of the SM-liiga, the 18-year-old 2017
first rounder of the Winnipeg Jets has made it adamantly clear that he wants to play hockey in North America for the 2018-19 hockey season.
Considering the fact that Vesalainen's last name includes the word 'laine', and he is property of a team situated in a city filled with Patrik Laine enthusiasts, the hype for yet another 19-year-old Finnish hockey player is lifting the roof.
Vesalainen begins the semi-final round of the SM liiga playoffs with Karpat Tuesday. The liiga playoffs run from March 13th until April 28th. Depending on his team's play, a potential entry-level contract signing with the Winnipeg Jets could be a possibility for the Finnish star winger.
Although probably not yet ready to play with the Jets in the NHL, Vesalainen could see action with Winnipeg's farm club, the Manitoba Moose. After playing the majority of his career on an Olympic-sized ice surface, an adjustment period would most likely be needed for the forward. The Moose conclude their regular season on the 15th of April. The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on April 10th.
Sticking to his word that he wants to play in North America next season, Vesalainen did not shy away from the possibility of seeing regular NHL minutes in 2018-19 in a recent interview with local Finnish media.
"I decided last year that after this season I will try the North American game," Vesalainen said (through translation). "It would be cool if I get to see some NHL minutes next season."
Although very set in his ways, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound forward is ready to help Karpat as best he can in his current playoff run.
"I want to play a big role, but I do not set expectations for myself," he said (through translation). "I do not listen to external pressure, but I just try to take it easy."
As a keen student of the game, Vesalainen already sends his hand-written reports to the Winnipeg Jets following each of his games, as a way to keep the parent club on top of not only how he is playing, but how he thinks and feels about his game as a whole, and his individual games of the season/playoffs.
Something else Vesalainen has been working on since his prepubescent days has been his shot. Whether it was from growing up aiming at paint cans in the garage after school, or shooting pucks out at the cottage in the summers, Vesalainen's next target is a net minder's water bottle sitting alone top shelf in North America.
Once again, the Finnish teenage 'Laine' connections have brought themselves into the spotlight. And according to the 18-year-old, it shouldn't be long until Manitobans get to see their most recent Finnish draftee play some good old Canadian puck.
By Carter Brooks
Photo by Stacey Revere