Playing in Liiga, Jesse Ylönen was able to build a strong game. He didn’t just shine in Finland; his international performances as an under-age player for the country’s U20 team raised confidence in his ability to carve out an NHL career.
His game translated quite well to North America last year. His season in the AHL showcased the tools this young player possesses. His shot and skating were put on full display in his 29 games with Laval. A well rounded player, it was no surprise that Ylönen was already able to make a case for himself with the Montreal Canadiens.
Ylönen was selected 35th overall, a few picks ahead of Alexander Romanov in 2018. His path hasn’t been as straight forward as Romanov’s, who has already played a full season in Montreal, but he has seen a steady improvement in his game, and earned at least a steady top-six spot in Laval.
Last year, Ylönen’s ranking span among the EOTP staff was from 8 to 16. The progress made by this young player showed in voting, with the bottom up that range coming up several places, though it wasn’t enough to propel him right up near the very top of the list.
Looking back, I realize I should have put Ylönen at least 10th. He was and is good enough for that position. He surprised me a lot this year with the way he hit the ground running in a new environment.
Top 25 Under 25 History
He eclipsed his 0.5 points-per-game rate he had been maintaining since his draft. If he can continue to boost his offensive production this season there could be another rise for him in 2022.
History of #8
His best attribute is one most other prospects lack: his exceptional mobility. He’s able to easily outskate most players from his draft year, and even a lot of current NHLers. He doesn’t just have an NHL skill, but a truly elite one. It’s often an obstable for a lot of prospects trying to reach the top level.
His ability to load his legs powerfully lets him switch from a forward stride to a crossover to a cutback without making extra, wasteful movements. He conserves his speed out of turns, rapidly increases the gap between himself and opponents in open ice, and dangles them effectively.
Since the puck rarely bounces away from his stick when he’s carrying it, he is also both an excellent playmaker, as well as a shooter. He’s able to hold on to the puck, make a feint, slip through the defence and either pass to a teammate or take a powerful shot. His skating posture enables him to drop his weight fully onto his stick and rocket the puck at the net as it arrives to his back foot.
When not setting up teammates or ripping heavy shots, he is effective on the defensive side of things. His speed gives him an advantage to be extra aggressive to cut passing lanes or put pressure on opposing forwards without getting away from an unrecoverable position.
Despite all the skill he possesses, Ylönen doesn’t score as much as he should because he still hasn’t maximized his abilities. His shot is really good but is underutilized, often preferring to pass the puck to teammates instead of taking a shot himself.
Sometimes you’ll see him elude a defender in the offensive zone, yet after doing so, he will not be attacking the slot to attract attention to free a teammate. He will continues to circle the offensive zone waiting for the perfect play. Favouring the highest-percentage play is often a detriment to his game, as he passes up good opportunities to create a high-danger chance.
That tendency to play too safe also manifests in different areas of his game. The winger also stands higher in the offensive zone to cover for teammates when there is open space in the slot for him to prepare his one-timers.
As David St-Louis noted, “when he rushes the puck up ice, he only inconsistently threatens the middle of the ice. He doesn’t attack defenders at an angle and tends to skate away from his support, which means he can be angled to the outside relatively easily.” A bolder approach to the offence will be what improves his point totals.
As much as his flaws hold him back, he has been making great progress in all those facets of play. Last year in the AHL we saw him protect the puck well, look to shoot a bit more, manipulate defenders better, all while using his speed to cover for his teammates’ mistakes.
At this point in his development, steady progress is what you want to see out of a prospect a few weeks from his 22nd birthday. Adapting well to the North American surface, rounding out his game, and being a crucial element of the Laval Rocket’s top six makes him a dark horse to carve a spot in the NHL sooner rather than later.
Another full year in the AHL would do wonders for him if he’s encouraged to unleash his offensive talent, and it is quite possible we’ll see him get a chance with the Canadiens if he keeps progressing steadily. His toolkit, especially the skating, makes him an invaluable asset in the prospect pool. If he can complete the package, he will make a name for himself on the biggest stage.
Patrik Bexell discusses Ylönen in this podcast: