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2019 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #14 Jesse Ylönen

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The Finnish winger earns a place just inside the top 15 for the second year running.

Lathi Pelicans

Jesse Ylönen struggled a bit with the adjustment from Mestis to Liiga, but in the end it was a good year for the winger. He scored a goal in the World Junior Championship’s Gold Medal Game and went home to Finland with the medallion around his neck.

His Pelicans were the big surprise in Liiga last year, finishing the regular season in third position. However, they seemed to have focused a bit too much on the regular season, as they were taken out by HIFK in six games.

Ylönen’s season stats aren’t that eye-popping, but things really turned around in the latter part of the season, after the WJC. He finished with 14 points (5G, 9A) in the last 22 games, showing what he can achieve when his confidence is there and how well he adjusted to the tougher league in the end. Unfortunately minor injuries set him back in the playoffs, only managing an assist in three games where a strong and smart HIFK squad really forced a naïve Pelicans team off the puck.

When comparing his stats to those of his teammates, it is evident that he was a bit sheltered. Playing mostly on the third line, the winger had more offensive zone starts than the team did in general.

Ylönen’s game relies on his fantastic skating. He told Eyes On The Prize that it is something he has worked on his whole life as it wasn’t a strength when he began playing hockey. In that way it was a bit surprising that coach Ville Nieminen didn’t incorporate him more in the transition game. The choice could perhaps be better understood when you consider that the gangly teenager rarely forced his way toward the net, but rather ended up near the boards or in the corner after having entered zone. He also tended to take shots from weak angles and far away from the net.

He has added weight and is keenly aware of his faults in the top Finnish league and is working on developing them. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he adapts well to an increased role on a Pelicans team that wants to show that they learned from last season’s experience and are looking to achieve a deeper playoff run.

Voting

The votes fell relatively close, the lowest having him at 18 while the highest placed him in the top 10.

Nathan: Ylönen’s ranking is more of a product of other players supplanting him in the Canadiens’ depth chart. It’s clear that the winger has skill, given his more than respectable performance at the World Juniors and Liiga. At the same time, while contributing, Ylönen never really put his stamp on either of those competitions.

With numerous other players either exceeding their projections or in a position to contribute directly to the Montreal Canadiens, Ylönen naturally slides down in the rankings. That said, continued progress toward his ceiling can easily see the Finnish winger make a big leap in next year’s rankings.

Patrik: The game is only getting faster. A player with high hockey IQ and whose brain can process the game at speed is a valuable commodity for any team. A winger does not need to be a defensive expert, but Ylönen bettered that part of the game this past season. Having worked even more on his speed as well as adding a few kilos of muscle means that I have no doubt that Ylönen is set for a breakout season in 2019-20.

Top 25 Under 25 History

He made his debut in 13th place in 2018. Dropping just one place with a number of major additions and big rises is a vote of confidence in his talent.

History of #14

Year #14
Year #14
2018 Will Bitten
2017 Ryan Poehling
2016 Will Bitten
2015 Christian Thomas
2014 Martin Réway
2013 Michael McCarron
2012 Aaron Palushaj
2011 Brendan Gallagher
2010 Ben Maxwell

Strengths

Speed, more speed, and hockey IQ. It is easy to spot the strengths in Ylönen’s arsenal of tricks, but his ability to separate himself from defenders thanks to his exceptional skating is his most obvious standout characteristic. He uses his pace to get by a defender or draw one in close to create an opening for one of his teammates. Defenders have to stay close in order to not be caught off guard by a Category 5 hurricane passing them mid-stride.

He has the vision and the processing speed to keep pace with his legs, something that benefits everyone on the ice. He can shoot, deke, and pass at top speed, and that creates havoc for the opposing team.

Weaknesses

He needs to continue adding weight to his frame while not losing the skating ability that makes him a threat in other ways. It has been clear that he hasn’t been physically ready to really challenge the defenders in such away that he can force his way to the net. This will change with the hours he has spent in the gym this past year.

While his shot was good at the Junior level (as evident in the clip from the WJC Final), he doesn’t get the chance to release it in the same way when he plays with the pros. More often than not he has taken a shot from a distance, a bad angle, or both.

He does have great hand-eye coordination and can work angles and tip-ins from in close. His wrist shot can be better, and to become a top scorer at the next level he needs to get the power to use it even when he has a defender hanging on for dear life. If he were to get better at masking his shot, using defenders as screens and using those hands of his to be a bit more deceptive, he will make it as a scorer at any level.

Projection

Having worked on his defensive game last season, and with the evidence of his improvement in skating, it is evident that Ylönen has the drive to work on not just the things that come naturally for him.

His defensive reads have become a lot better. With his awareness, he doesn’t need to constantly monitor his position, which led to a rapid improvement in his own zone. It’s the kind of thing that make him into a prospect on the cusp of breaking into the conversations of even the casual Canadien fan.

The winger has clear top-six potential, but adding the defensive reads makes him go from a boom-or-bust kind of prospect to a serious talent no matter where you place him in the lineup. If he can bring the rest of his offensive talents up to the level of his speed, there is no doubt that he will be the next Finn to pull on the sacred bleu-blanc-rouge of the Montreal Canadiens.

Jesse Ylönen is an NHL player in the making. The question is when he will be ready to step onto the Bell Centre ice. His own eyes are locked on the prize, hoping to do just that in one year’s time.