Thanks to friend of EOTP Jiří Vítek, we received an exclusive chance to talk to Finnish winger Jesse Ylönen during the recent U20 Four Nations Tournament in Hodonin, Czech Republic. Finland had just beaten Sweden by a 4-0 score, and Ylönen had two assists in the game.
Having been in Hodonin in April with the Finnish Lions U19 team, he doesn’t think it’s a big step up to play with the U20s this time. The main adjustment for him is more the shift to Junior hockey from Liiga (Finland’s premier league). The difference is styles is big according to Ylönen. “Junior is more end-to-end, more like odd-man rushes. Liiga is much more tactical.”
There is another change that Ylönen has had to deal with this season, going from Mestis (the second division) to Liiga, where he has six points (4G, 2A) in 18 games.
“Of course it’s a big change, of course everything is. It’s hard to play in Liiga; players are faster and stronger, so it’s been a big difference. [I have struggled a] little bit in the defensive game, but I am working on it. I am getting better all the time.”
As is the Finnish team, which had just played very well in the opening two games of the tournament, claiming a 4-1 win against Russia, and a 4-0 defeat of Sweden, but Ylönen has not been surprised by the results.
“I knew we had a good team for this tournament. All our players have played in Liiga, which is a good pro league. Of course I know we had a good team, and it’s good to see us play well.”
With the whole team having medals from various U18 tournaments over the past two years, beating Sweden with a 4-0 score was still something special. “Yes, it’s always good to beat Sweden, for sure.”
Finland went on to beat the Czechs 7-2 the day after the interview, winning the tournament in style.
While Ylönen gets to play around 15 minutes on a good day in Liiga, it still varies a lot, and he explains the reasons for that.
“It depends on the game. If there is lots of penalty-kill time [my ice time] goes down, but on a good night I get about 15 minutes.”
However Ylönen is being used on the power play both on his club team, the Pelicans, and in the Finnish U20s. But there is a difference in this regard as well: the under-20 coaches are using him in the Alex Ovechkin/Patrik Laine spot, whereas the Pelicans use him in the middle.
“Fun times. Here I get to play the shooter,” Ylönen says with a smile.
As the tournament is a preview of the WJC squad, has he heard any guarantees of a spot from the coach? “No, I haven’t spoken to the coach about it, but I’ll do everything I can to make the team.”
When asked to describe his strengths, he’s quick with his response. “Stick-handling.” He also mentions his passing skills, and the skating that many fans got a glimpse of at the Canadiens’ development camp this summer.
As for weaknesses? “I need to improve my defensive game and winning battles; I need to get stronger.”
Montreal’s development staff is following Ylönen’s transition to the pros with a keen interest, he tells us. “I spoke with the Canadiens’ director of player development, Rob Ramage. He was in Finland a few weeks ago watching my game. We spoke about what I need to improve, what I am doing well, and what I need to do better to get [to the NHL] one day.”
For more insight on Czech and European hockey, be sure to follow Jiří Vítek on Twitter.