Last summer, after his entry-level contract with the Winnipeg Jets expired, Kristian Vesalainen went back to Europe. The young forward signed first with the Malmo Redhawks of the SHL, and then a few months later went back home to Finland to play with HIFK. The Jets retained his exclusive NHL rights by issuing a qualifying offer.
That meant they could potentially bring him back, should Vesalainen want to return to North America at some point. Not so fast, as HIFK announced a one-year extension for the 2023-24 season.
Vesalainen, 23, was selected 24th overall by the Jets in 2017, and it didn’t take long for him to see some NHL action. He played five games in the 2018-19 season, before playing in the minor leagues and eventually the KHL. The following year he was in the AHL full-time, and then in 2020-21 he once again split time in three different leagues.
Last year, though, he was given a great opportunity with Winnipeg. He dressed in 53 games, and even though he was only getting a few minutes a night, it was regular time in the NHL. Unfortunately, that resulted in just three points, and his departure in the summer.
Now, it’s unclear where his future lies. According to CapFriendly, his rights will be owned by the Jets through his 27th birthday, and his NHL upside is completely unknown at this point. It would be hard for another team to trade for him without a good grasp on whether he’d come back, and whether he could make an impact.
It very well could just mean another first-round pick that never does anything in the NHL. Through 70 games, Vesalainen has just five points. He has averaged 8:33 during those and is still something of a mystery. With HIFK this season he has 17 points in 24 games, not exactly lighting the world on fire. For now, he’s just another name on the Winnipeg reserve list.