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European Prospect Report: Comparing the draft-plus-one seasons of Jesse Ylönen and Joni Ikonen

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Adding another two goals this week, Ylönen is beginning to find his form. How does he compare to last year’s second-round Finn?

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With all but one European Canadiens prospects off because of the international break, only Jesse Ylönen was in action in regular Liiga play this past week.

Ylönen had two games and scored twice in the second game, a 7-2 route of SaiPa. His first goal was a tap-in while the puck was behind the goalie.

His second goal really stood out, and you can see his quick thinking and the fast movement of his hands on the play.

With more than half of the season played in Liiga, there is an interesting comparison to be made: seeing how far Jesse Ylönen has progressed in his development by comparing him to other players in their draft-plus-one season.

Unfortunately, Liiga’s archives haven’t been updated, so a full comparison with a previous Montreal draft pick in 2013, Artturi Lehkonen, can’t be made. Instead, the comparison will be doing using points per game from a ranged of drafted players.

Interestingly enough, Lehkonen played 33 games, similar to the 31 that Ylönen has played up to date. Lehkonen had seven more points but played on an arguably better team in his D+1 season compared to what Ylönen plays in now.

Still, there are some interesting comparables on this list. Joel Armia, Lehkonen, and Ikonen stand out for Montreal fans, but it looks as though the Los Angeles Kings got a really good player in Rasmus Kupari, who shadows the Winnipeg JetsKristian Vesalainen in the top three of the list. More interestingly for Canadiens fans, Ylönen currently sits right between Lehkonen — a successful draft selection — and Ikonen, who had an underwhelming season in Liiga last year.

Interestingly this year’s Pelicans and the KalPa team of last season are very similar both in the table (KalPa finished sixth, and currently the Pelicans are seventh) as well as in Corsi-for percentage (49.4 for the Pelicans versus 50.1% for Kalpa).

With this in mind, I’ll argue that the teams are similar, and can be compared. Ikonen and Ylönen have different skills and different roles — Ikonen played centre, whereas Ylönen is a winger — but both played on the third line (mostly) and got to play on the power play, even if Ylönen plays mostly on the first unit. Therefore comparing the advanced stats should be better than comparing points per game.

I chose to include Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the table, as we know he is ready for the NHL, whereas the two other forwards are expected to develop at a slower rate.

First off, Kotkaniemi was used all over the ice last year, he wasn’t sheltered in any way, and he still put up good numbers.

What really stands out is how similar Ikonen and Ylönen are in their metrics. They are both sheltered, the shot-attempt numbers are similar, even if Ikonen’s Corsi close (when a team leads by one goal or less) is higher, but Ikonen was even more sheltered than Ylönen is this season.

According to these numbers, Ikonen benefited the team’s possession game to a higher degree, having a higher Corsi-for percentage relative to his teammates. Given this, Ikonen really stands out in his low PDO (on-ice shooting percentage plus save percentage), something that might help explain, to a degree, why his point production was as low as it was with the sheltering he received.

However, I might have to adjust my own judgment when it comes to Ikonen’s performance last year; it was better than I gave him credit for.

The only conclusion I’d be willing to go with looking at D+1 numbers both in regard to the classic (points) and new (advanced stats) evaluations is that for both Ikonen and Ylönen there is a fair bit to go before they are NHL ready. They are still sheltered and will need their stats to be similar to Kotkaniemi’s underlying stats to really benefit a team in the NHL.

Remember: it took Lehkonen three years to progress from the draft to a fully-capable NHL player. Ikonen has lost almost a full year due to his injury and it will make him need even more time. As a result, we could still be two full seasons away from thinking about the two Finns as NHL players, rather than just prospects.