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Vesalainen full of confidence for Jets, compares self to Laine

Forward prospect aims to improve offense, begin season with Winnipeg

by Scott Billeck / Correspondent

WINNIPEG -- Kristian Vesalainen has things in common with Patrik Laine besides being drafted by the Winnipeg Jets.

Each is a Finland-born forward with plenty of confidence. When it comes to the latter, Vesalainen, selected with the No. 24 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, may even have an edge on his potential teammate.

"I think I'm a little bit more [of an] all-around player [than Laine]," Vesalainen, 19, said of the Winnipeg forward selected No. 2 in the 2016 NHL Draft. "[Laine] has a better shot than me. That's the one thing [where] we're apart." 

Still, Vesalainen's shot is one his key attributes. 

"Yeah, absolutely, but [it's] not on [Laine's] level," he said during Jets development camp last month. "It's a good shot, though." 

Vesalainen's confidence has caught the eye of Jets coach Paul Maurice. 

"You want that, right?" Maurice said. "You want them feeling good about their game and what they can do. They get out in the exhibition games and hopefully, that confidence is there and it stays there. I much prefer dealing with a player who has lots of confidence in a game than a guy you're trying to build his game up mentally for him."

Vesalainen said he has two things he'd like to resolve this offseason. The first is agreeing to an entry-level contract; Vesalainen and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said the two sides were working toward that.

"That's my plan, so hopefully we're going to get that done," Vesalainen said. 

The second goal is continuing to elevate his game over the next two months as he aims to open the season with Winnipeg.

"I want to improve my skills with the puck and [my] offensive game," Vesalainen said. 

To do so, he said he has been working on becoming a true power forward like Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who was idolized by Vesalainen growing up. At 6-foot-4, 207 pounds, he certainly fits the mold. 

"I attack more and [have] been more aggressive and good in the corner battles," he said. 

Cheveldayoff said Vesalainen is coming off a solid season in Liiga, Finland's top professional league. With HPK he played on the top line and had 39 points (19 goals, 20 assists) in 44 games before being loaned in February to Karpat, where he had eight points (four goals, four assists) in 18 playoff games to help win the Liiga championship.

"He had a good year on the offensive side of it, got traded and had an opportunity to win a championship over there," Cheveldayoff said, "which is always an important part of any player's development, to be able to go through that rigor. 

"And then just on the personal side, it was a great growth year for him. … So [we're] certainly very excited."

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