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Vesalainen determined to stick with Jets this season

Forward, selected with No. 24 pick in 2017 Draft, played in three leagues in 2018-19

by Scott Billeck / NHL.com Correspondent

WINNIPEG -- Kristian Vesalainen played in three leagues last season, including five games with the Winnipeg Jets, but is determined to make his mark on the NHL this time around.

The 20-year-old forward had one assist with the Jets before being sent down to Manitoba of the American Hockey League. He elected to play with Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League instead and returned to Manitoba after the KHL season ended.

"Obviously, I make my own decisions and have to go with that," Vesalainen said during Jets development camp in June. "But I thought the KHL season went fine (17 points in 31 games). It just [ended] pretty quick there, so I came back. I just want to play hockey, so it was nice for me to come back here and play a little bit more."

 

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Selected by Winnipeg with the No. 24 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Vesalainen said his KHL experience will help him compete for a full-time roster spot with the Jets.

"Yeah, I think I can play almost every role," Vesalainen said. "Played in second and first lines in the KHL ... I played with the third line too. So I think I can play everything."

After returning to North America to end the season, Vesalainen had 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 22 games with Manitoba.

Despite bouncing around, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff saw developments in Vesalainen's game.

"It's another step," he said. "I don't think it's any bigger than any other one when you're trying to make the National Hockey League. I think for him, it's about taking the next steps and we'll see what those next steps are. There's a development path that's unique to each and every individual player."

Video: WPG@MIN: Vesalainen pots PPG on backhander

Jets coach Paul Maurice said Vesalainen's (6-foot-3, 207 pounds) strength is his most noticeable improvement.

"Vesalainen is stronger and where he could do the drills last year because he's a gifted man, it wasn't easy for him to drive through drills and always push," Maurice said. "And at the end of practice, he's still coming out of the corner now hard. He's just physically stronger. He can do an hour long of all those drills and he's just a more mature player. How that relates to [training camp], we'll see. But clearly, there's been some good work done there."

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