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Jets prospects hit the ice for first full practice of development camp

"I'm just trying to loosen guys up and have fun." -Vesalainen

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

WINNIPEG - Day two at Winnipeg Jets development camp saw the first full practice of the week, after fitness testing took place on Monday.

With the camp coming in late June, it's often the first time the prospects have hit the ice since their season ended.

That's exactly the case for 2017 first round pick Kristian Vesalainen.

"I haven't been on the ice much this summer, but it felt good to be back," said Vesalainen, who has a couple things he wants to work on this summer.

"I'm going to work a lot on my skating, just get faster and a little bit stronger. I just want to train and see what happens. You just have to work hard and see what you're going to bring to the table."

This is Vesalainen's third development camp and after playing five NHL games, 22 AHL games, and 37 KHL games, he's getting used to being the veteran in the room this week.

"It's a little bit different now that I'm a veteran here. I'm just trying to loosen guys up and have fun," he said.

"Obviously I'm a little bit more confident. I know the drills we're doing and know the stuff we're doing. It's easier for me."

Video: DEV CAMP | Henri Nikkanen

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Henri Nikkanen and Logan Neaton are getting their first taste of life as a member of the Winnipeg Jets organization.

Nikkanen and Neaton were both drafted just two days ago in the fourth and fifth rounds respectively.

"It's the best feeling in the world to get drafted, especially to an organization like Winnipeg. It's a dream come true," said Neaton.

"For me, I was just trying to win as many games as I could for my organization. That was really all my focus was. This was something that happened to pan out and I'm really thankful for."

Neaton is coming off a spectacular season in the British Columbia Hockey League with the Prince George Spruce Kings. He had a 1.92 goals against average in 47 regular season games, then got even better in the playoffs - going 16-1-0 with a 1.46 GAA.

The 20-year-old was passed over in the first two NHL Drafts he was eligible for and was on vacation in Kentucky with his family when he got the news.

Video: DEV CAMP | Logan Neaton

Now he's soaking up everything he can this week before heading to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell for the 2019-20 season, the very same school where Connor Hellebuyck (who, like Neaton, is a Michigan product drafted by the Jets in the fifth round) played during his NCAA career.

"I actually train with Connor in the off season in Michigan with the same goalie coach, Randy Wilson," Neaton said. "Very different goalies, very different styles but obviously he's had so much success and grown so much as a goaltender since a lot of you probably saw him in his first development camp here. 

"He's a phenomenal goalie, I wouldn't say we play similar. But obviously, when there is a goaltender of that caliber out there you always want to emulate what he does and take away things from his game to make yourself better."

Nikkanen's season went a little differently than Neaton's. 

The 6'2", 18-year-old centre missed the majority of the 2018-19 season due to injury. He played a total of 25 games across various levels in Finland.

"I had big expectations for the season and the injury came slowly. It didn't come in one game or anything like that. I was away for a long time," he said. "But it made me stronger mentally because of the comeback I'm going to have here. I'm really happy the Jets picked me. I think I'm going to have a great future here."

He compares his game to a player Jets fans see numerous times throughout the season - fellow Finn Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild.

"Since I was really young I've been watching his game," Nikkanen said. "I think I play with my hockey IQ. I see the game really well. I'm a centre who can play both ways. I like to score and make points, but I'm still good in the defensive zone."

He was watching draft online in Finland when he got the call telling him he went 113th overall to the Jets. Finding out it was Winnipeg that took him also came as good news.

"There are a lot of Finns here. I'm happy for that. I know a lot of guys from here," said Nikkanen. "I know the young guys. I've heard this is a real great organization with great fans and I'm happy to be here."

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