When it comes to the Laval Rocket, there is no one on the team more full to the brim with tantalizing skill and promise than Jesse Ylönen. The young Scottsdale-born winger is hoping to make a full-time NHL impact in the near future, and continue the Montreal Canadiens’ march toward fixing nearly a decade of development incompetence.
For Ylönen he’s done extremely well to put himself firmly in the viewfinder of the Canadiens’ front office and coaching staff, in both the old regime and the new one as well. It hasn’t been the easiest road either, with COVID preventing him from joining the Laval Rocket originally as the season was cancelled, to the virus forcing an abbreviated AHL season the following year, to last year when many players were yo-yoed between the leagues. In that time, Ylönen has become one of the most skilled players in the organization, and it shows every single time he takes the ice.
He is continuing to iron out some inconsistencies that all young players go through in their development and will look to build on his 14-game NHL showing from 2021-22. All the skills are there for him to make the leap full-time this year, and could very easily continue to grow under the eyes of Martin St. Louis.
Since graduating from the under-20 leagues in Finland, Ylönen has been a solid offensive producer at each level he’s played, from the Mestis and Liiga in Finland to the AHL the last two years. It’s easy to look at his numbers and be left wanting more, but adding context is always important in that regard. The Pelicans were a club far outside the bubble of top teams in Finland, and lacked some of the high-end stars that other teams had. With the Rocket as well, the team was never built in a way that his skill set would be complemented.
As I mentioned in Rafaël Harvey-Pinard’s profile, the Rocket were a team that scored by committee. Even with that identity, the talent of Ylönen frightened teams enough that throughout the AHL playoffs, he was double-teamed in the offensive zone, and on every power play. He was still an impact player, using his speed and finesse to drive opponents back while opening space up for his linemates.
His skill set will inevitably force the hand of the Canadiens and will land him an NHL role. There he’ll need to continue to build on those skills and reach what his ceiling could be.
The voting was broken into three clusters overall: top 8, mid teens, and the late teens. The trio of myself, Jared, and Justin ranked him at eighth overall, likely due to the higher familiarity having closely watched his AHL growth. The main portion of the votes had him 12th to 15th overall, while our two community participants provided the low votes.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Ylönen has been a steady fixture since entering the listing in 2018, ranking 13th, 14th, 13th, 8th, and now 12th since his draft year. He still has all the talent to rise up the list next year, but the competition is much harder now after a busy off-season.
History of #12
So much of Ylönen’s game is based around his skating and agility with the puck on his stick. He can easily accelerate and leave defenders in his wake with his straight-line speed, but when the situation calls for it, he is capable of mixing in dangerous east-west movements as well. The Finn is able to slow his pace quickly, changing directions or using his edges to weave around the offensive zone, all while keeping his head up to scan for teammates and opportunities.
Jesse Ylönen makes it a two-goal lead for the Rocket!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) June 5, 2022
He has a goal and assist through the opening 11 minutes in Springfield. pic.twitter.com/VWoSQsxNpb
His ability to read the zone makes him not only a dynamic goal-scorer, but also an extremely capable playmaker as well. He can and often will look to improve his spot in the offensive zone by keeping the puck on a string while attempting to dangle around the defence. It doesn’t always work, but his success rate is far from poor, and the aggression to open up better attacking lanes is something that many prospects lack in their toolkit.
Of course, I would be remiss to not discuss the other major strength in Jesse Ylönen’s game: his high-level shot. Right now in the Canadiens organization there may be only a few players overall who can match Ylönen’s skill in the category. He whips his wrist shot with great velocity, often loading it up to snap by goalies. However, his slapshot is also not to be trifled with as he unloads one-timers with startling ease and power for a player of his build.
While his offensive exploits are outstanding, and an immense part of his game, on the other side of the puck he still struggles a bit. His reads in the defensive zone are sometimes off, or he misses his mark entirely, which leads to increased scoring chances against. He also isn’t the most physical player, looking to use a long reach to break up plays instead of his body.
There are also instances of low or inconsistent effort in his own end that are frustrating. Simple clears become a chaotic fire drill, or instead of sealing a player off on the boards he tries to just reach in to slow them down. Building on that is a must if Ylönen hopes to stick as a long-term option in the NHL.
Working on his coverage abilities will be a big test for St. Louis, this year if Ylönen earns a spot. It’s unlikely that Ylönen will ever turn out to be a top-end defensive winger, but that isn’t what he was ever advertised as either.
When looking over the members of the Laval Rocket roster from last year, and going into this season, Ylönen is at the top of both lists. While Harvey-Pinard’s high work ethic makes him another top option, Ylönen’s high-end ability sets him apart from his teammate. In the very near future, he could be a mainstay in the Habs’ middle six, if not higher in the lineup.
His skating, passing, and shooting abilities are NHL-ready right now, and he showed in his 14-game stint last year that he can be a contributor at that level. Now, as the team continues to move out some of the heavier contracts in its rebuild, the opportunity is there for Ylönen to land an increased role.
If he can iron out some of his defensive lapses, and continue to improve his offensive output, it isn’t beyond reason that the dynamic winger will be a staple in the Canadiens’ lineup sooner rather than later.