May 23rd: The signing is now official, with the Malmo Redhawks officially announcing the addition of Vesalainen today.
May 21st: Jets winger Kristian Vesalainen has failed to make much of an impact in his four seasons in North America and it appears he’s opting for a change of scenery as Expressen’s Johan Svensson reports that Vesalainen is expected to sign with Malmo of the SHL for next season with an official announcement coming as soon as next week.
The 22-year-old was a first-round pick of Winnipeg back in 2017 (24th overall) but has failed to produce with any sort of consistency. He played in 53 NHL games this season but managed just two goals and one assist while averaging just 8:40 per contest. In the minors, he hasn’t fared much better as his best output was a 30-point showing in 2019-20, hardly the type of numbers teams want to see from a first-round prospect.
As a result, a return overseas certainly would make sense for Vesalainen. He’s waiver-eligible beginning next season and as a result, he’d likely be earmarked for another limited role if he stayed with Winnipeg who almost certainly wouldn’t want to expose him to waivers to get him back to AHL Manitoba. But if he wants to play a bigger role and show that he still has some offensive upside, playing in Sweden will give him a better chance to do just that.
As Vesalainen is a restricted free agent this summer, the Jets can still retain his NHL rights by issuing a qualifying offer. In doing so, they’ll at least have the right to try to bring him back in a couple of years if his performance improves overseas which would give them one more chance to salvage some value out of a draft pick that hasn’t panned out so far.