Looking at Jesse Ylönen’s stats and comparing them to last year’s performance paints a bleak picture for the Montreal Canadiens prospect. The Finnish forward has dropped from 0.51 points per game to a 0.46 average, and this seems dire for a player that many were high on at the time of his draft, and going into to a new season.
However, his point totals only paint part of the picture. Those numbers need to be put in context of the team to gain a proper perspective on Ylönen’s scoring. Comparing the Pelicans’ performance from 2018-19 to the 2019-20 season, a couple of things stand out.
First is the position in the standings. Last season, the Pelicans finished third, this season the team currently resides third from the bottom. Second, during the previous season, the Pelicans actually came second in scoring in Liiga with 199 goals, 3.32 per game. During the current season the team has scored 89 goals, second-worst in the league, for a 2.17 goals-per-game average.
That’s more than a goal less in every game, something that isn’t apparent when you just compare his stats between the seasons.
With this in mind, Ylönen’s 13 goals and 14 assists in 2018-19 had him factoring in on 14% of the Pelicans’ offensive output. When comparing that to this year, his 11 goals and 8 assists have come on 21% of the team’s goals. So he has significantly increased his share of the offence — up 50% — while the team in general is on pace for one-third fewer tallies. So there is progression terms of how he’s being relied on by the team, even if his personal production is on pace to be lower.
Comparing the underlying numbers between the two seasons, he holds a lower Corsi-for percentage this season (49.7%) compared to last season (50.9%). However, the team has crashed from 49.7 to 47.4 this season, so he’s still an above-average possession player, and the gap is even larger.
It’s not due to an easier deployment this year. Ylönen was a bit sheltered and started 53.2% of shifts in the offensive zone. This year that number is 44.1% It is clear that Ylönen brings offence for a club that certainly needs it; one that is seeing more play in its own end than in the opposition’s.
He has also gotten better defensively, which should be obvious when comparing his Corsi-for percentage to his zone starts,. The fact he’s even getting those shifts in his own end point to more trust in his ability. His defensive-zone reads are much better, he looks more secure in his deployment, and the Pelicans are using his great speed and skating as a way of exiting the zone with the puck under control.
The Pelicans have had a bad season, and while Ylönen’s ice time hasn’t changed much, these numbers show that he has made progress in his development despite hitting the scoresheet less frequently. He should not be seen as a failed prospect due to his team’s struggle this season; on the contrary, all the numbers show that he has taken steps forward. He will be regarded as one of the interesting players to watch, especially as I am quite certain that he will be in North America next season.