There is not a more skilled prospect at the World Junior Hockey Championship for the Montreal Canadiens than Jesse Ylönen. He doesn’t have the shooting ability of Nick Suzuki, but Ylönen has a good shot of his own, and combines incredible skating ability — unmatched by any other Habs prospect — with shifty hands that enable him to thread through traffic and find his teammates with great passes.
Ylönen has so far not really made an impact with his production in professional leagues. He was drafted for those impressive tools of his first and foremost, as the Habs banked on him putting those together to evolve into a top-six player for them.
Following him through the great European Prospect Report from Patrik Bexell, it seems that he’s becoming impactful for the Pelicans in Liiga. The World Juniors could be the boost he needs to continue his season on an upward trend: he is given an occasion to showcase what he can do, not against much older opponents, but facing his own age group.
So far he has three points in three games. It is a decent total as he slots on the third line of Finland due to their stacked right wing, and also only gets second power play time, but it could definitely be more.
He has shown flashes of his high-end talent, like this zone entry against Kazakhstan.
Ylönen gets off the wall, anticipates the sweeping pokecheck of the defender, brings his hands forward, slides the puck under the opposing stick, pushes with his right skate to get around the opponent, catches sight of his teammate, and threads a pass to him through the skates of a second defender. It was a crazy solo effort that led to a great scoring chance.
This kind of play is indicative of a player who can process the game at a high speed. Even more importantly, he does so through his great control of the puck and great skating technique.
Take this other sequence on the power play. Ylönen decides on a hard cutback that gives him a lot of separation from his checker. When another defender tries to strip the puck away from him, he evades both defenders with his stickhandling ability and creates a passing lane.
First clip is the play; the second is the analysis.
So why haven’t Ylönen’s abilities turned into more offensive production?
There are players, like Suzuki, who don’t have the same skating ability he possesses, or the same handling skills, but routinely have multi-point nights for their team in their respective league. They compensate for their weaknesses with a greater ability to manipulate the defence, turning offensive situations to their advantages.
Ylönen could use his skill set to create more space, and get more scoring occasion for himself with better timing and deception.
The right-winger can make great use of cutbacks in the offensive zone. He gets very low on his skates as he abruptly changes direction, and can explode out of those quick turns. His skating technique is almost perfect in those sequences.
That said, he often doesn’t prepare the cutbacks well enough to gain the separation from defenders he should.
A great cutback is not only explosive, but needs to be sold and timed just right. This means that Ylönen needs to have enough space along the wall to change direction and must make sure that the defender he is up against won’t be able to follow him in his movement. He needs to have that defender commit to a pokecheck, or turn his skate in the opposite direction he wants to turn into to escape with the puck.
A defender that is right on Ylönen’s shoulder and lunging forward to strip the puck from him will be very vulnerable to a cutback — he won’t be able to adjust his movement to continue tailing the Habs forward as he explodes the other way. But if that same defender has a few feet between him and Ylönen and has not extended his stick, he will be able to turn into the available space and keep his pressure up.
Here’s a few example of what led to successful or less successful cutbacks from Ylönen.
This is only one element of Ylönen’s offensive game, but its importance can’t be understated. The more elusive he is, the more opportunities he will get in the opposing end. With his skating ability, he could potentially become very hard to deal with.
Another element he could work on is making himself a more mobile target on the power play. While that also depends on Finland’s power-play structure as a whole, too often he stands with his feet planted, stick in the air, waiting for the puck to come to him for a one-timer. The play to him becomes predictable. Most opposing penalty kills know he is in position around the faceoff dot and looks to do one thing: shoot.
Once again, his great skating ability could be very advantageous in this situation, enabling him to walk along the half-wall and move the defensive box around to also make use of his playmaking skills.
Yes, production is always dependent on opportunity, and Jesse Ylönen isn’t placed in the best possible ones, but with his talent, there is no reason why he can’t make the most out of chances he does get to impress on the big stage of the World Junior Hockey Championship.