Vancouver Canucks 2017 NHL Draft Profile: RW Kristian Vesalainen

Jun 26, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; Brock Boeser walks to the stage after being selected as the number twenty-three overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 26, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; Brock Boeser walks to the stage after being selected as the number twenty-three overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

Anything can happen at the 2017 NHL Draft, including a Vancouver Canucks fifth-overall selection nobody saw coming.

At fifth overall, the Vancouver Canucks will be unlikely to land top prospects Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier. Perhaps Miro Heiskanen or someone else can sneak into the top two like Pierre-Luc Dubois was a surprising third-overall pick last year, but neither Patrick nor Hischier will be available at five.

Which leaves us with at least 10 other players the Canucks will have to consider for their pick.

There are some popular names out there, like Gabriel Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt or Cody Glass. But what if the Canucks go a little bit off the board and pick Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen instead?

Embed from Getty Images

Name: Kristian Vesalainen

Position: Right wing, left wing

Shoots: Left

Birthdate: 1999-06-01

Height, weight: 6’3”, 209 lbs

Team, league: Frolunda HC, SHL

Stats (from 







#30 by ISS Hockey
#24 by Future Considerations
#25 by McKeen’s Hockey
#7 by NHL Central Scouting (EU Skaters)

Risk, Reward: 3/5, 4.5/5

NHL-potential: Top-line winger

Draft Range: Top 20

Scouting report

"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)"


We shouldn’t put too much stock into a single tournament when it comes to evaluate draft prospects. However, it’s hard to ignore what Kristian Vesalainen did at the 2017 under-18 worlds. He scored six goals and 13 points in just seven games and looked like a completely different player than the one scouts had watched all season.

Vesalainen is a hulking power winger who lets nothing stand in his way. He can carry the puck up the boards, beat defenders with speed and shake off hits before pulling hard to the net to score. But, he also has silky-smooth hands and can beat opponents with a fancy deke. In addition, Vesalainen uses his size and reach extremely well to hold on to the puck for long periods of time.

Related Story: Canucks should target high-risk, high-reward prospects at draft

Aside from his size and strength, Vesalainen’s biggest offensive asset is his shot. The Finn has a lightning-quick release and gets a lot of power and accuracy in his shots. Though he plays smooth, accurate passes as well, Vesalainen projects as a scorer at the next level.

Furthermore, Vesalainen works extremely hard and plays a strong 200-foot game. He can apply pressure on the forecheck, finishes hits, backchecks hard and offers excellent support in the defensive zone. As a result, Vesalainen has a very high floor and looks like a guaranteed third-liner at the very least. This observation is also partly supported by Canucks Army’s 51-percent rule, which you can read all about here.


Going into the year, Vesalainen was a potential top-five pick who was destined to follow in Patrik Laine’s and Jesse Puljujarvi’s footsteps. There were virtually no weaknesses in his game, at least when looking at the skills necessary for a scoring power forward. However, that changed rather quickly.

Vesalainen played in the Swedish SHL, the Finnish Liiga and Swedish juniors. The reasons aren’t entirely clear, but he struggled to score at every level, including juniors, where he recorded four goals and no assists in 10 games. Scouts quickly started to question his scoring upside.

Another issue, and this might be the more serious one, is his decision-making. Vesalainen can carry the puck and make plays, but he often struggles against strong defenses and tries to force plays that aren’t there. This was even visible at the U-18s where he stood out like few others.

Final Thoughts

With Vesalainen, our risk/reward numbers depend on expectations. If a team, e.g. the Canucks, make a bold pick and select him in the top five, hoping he’ll turn into a first-line scorer, there is some risk there. But the further he drops, the lower the risk. Getting a sure-fire NHL third-line forward with top-line upside in the 15-to-25 range would be great with no risk attached.

Before the U-18s, I might have suggested Vesalainen could be a second-line target for Vancouver. The chances of him being available at 33 would have been close to none, but there was no chance of the Canucks picking him at five either. But as much as we can’t toss the whole season out the window and evaluate this player based on a single tournament, scouts agree Vesalainen’s upside might be higher than we thought.

The thing people tend to forget is that Vesalainen played professionally rather than with his age group, like Patrick, Hischier and most others did. Even at the world juniors, Vesalainen played one age group up. And when a prospect isn’t quite ready for that level, he often struggles, plays without confidence and just tries to play a simple game and get rid of the puck as quickly as possible.

Next: All 2017 NHL Draft Profiles

Yet, Vesalainen reminds me a bit of Vancouver’s own Jake Virtanen. A power winger with scoring upside and a bottom-six floor, who might become a first-line winger, but could also struggle to score at the highest level. Virtanen is still extremely young and has many years left to reach his potential, but there were better picks available at No. 6 that year nonetheless.