NHL Mock Draft 2017: Florida Panthers select Kristian Vesalainen with No. 10 pick

Cats hypothetically go Finn (again) for first-round choice

With the 10th pick in this year’s SBN’s NHL Mock Entry Draft, Litter Box Cats is proud to select, on behalf of the Florida Panthers, from Finland, Kristian Vesalainen.

Name:          Kristian Vesalainen

Team:           Frolunda (SWE)

Position:       Left Wing

Height:        6’3”

Weight:        209 lbs.

Shoots:         Left

Born:            June 1, 1999, Helsinki, Finland

Kristian Vesalainen 2017 NHL Draft profile | SB Nation NHL Dra...

NHL Draft prospect Kristian Vesalainen has the frame and skill to be a solid power forward in the NHL. Would you like to see the Sabres trade down and grab him later in the Draft?

‎Posted by Die by the Blade on‎ ראשון 11 יוני 2017

Kristian Vesalainen shares several attributes with a former somewhat controversial Panthers’ first rounder, Lawson Crouse. Like Crouse, Vesalainen is a big, strong, power forward who is not afraid to get to tough areas of the ice. And also like Crouse, Versalainen’s offensive output is the source of some controversy.

The large, left-handed Finn was noted in Adam Kimmelman, of NHL.com’s mock draft as possessing a “nose for the net,” and “the strength to stay there,” as well as “soft hands that allow him to smartly tip pucks and battle to make plays in front.” Kevin Allen, at USA Today described Vesalainen as a “huge skilled winger.” And, the Draftanalyst.com had some descriptions that could make any team’s mouth water: “Uses his size and strength to overpower opponents;” “Large, powerful stride and lateral quickness and shiftiness with the puck make him difficult to contain;” “He’s got incredibly soft hands and poise with the puck.”

That type of skill, and power, fits the Panthers needs perfectly. The Cats piled up shots from the perimeter last season, with obviously disappointing results, while failing to gain opportunities around the blue paint. The Panthers were notably small up front for long stretches of last season, which is remarkable for a team Dale Tallon has been building for some time as a “Western Conference” style squad of skill and size. The Islanders were able to prey upon the perimeter preferences of the Panthers in their playoff series in 2015-16 as well. The team is very simply lacking in a player like Patric Hornqvist, who makes a living around the front of the net.

Vesalainen would appear to fill this need. But how adept he is at will be the subject of debate. Kevin Allen, at USA Today, concluded that the winger had a tough year, “but we still believe.” ISS hockey referred to Vesalainen as “raw talent.” We are inching into Lawson Crouse territory here… Jeff Marek, at Sportsnet noted concerns about his lack of productivity. The draftanalyst.com dropped the Vesalainen’s ranking from 6th in September and October to 17th in May of this year. In the Swedish Elite league, Vesalainen scored only one goal in 26-games with Frolunda (while adding 5 assists), and he was sent to Frolunda J20 (super elite) where he played 10-games and scored 4 goals with no assists. Reports were that he struggled in the senior league, and that he “goes through periods of inconsistency.”

NHL Central Scouting rates Vesalainen at 7th for international skaters, and for his age group, the big Finn led all players at the 2017 IIHF Under-18 World Junior Championships, with 13 points, in 7-games (6 goals, 7 assists). He was named the best forward at that tournament, and he was the tournament’s MVP. Some scouting services claim he is underrated. We in Panthers territory know that our team management likes big, underrated Finns, and it appears Dale Tallon is back at the reigns this year. We know that Tallon likes size in the first round to go along with skill.

Vesalainen’s size and type of play look to be what the Panthers need, and have too little of in a farm system drained of power forwards with scoring touch. Future Considerations profile sounds precisely like what the Panthers are looking for in a pick:

“A big and strong winger who has the ability to impact the game in many ways…plays a versatile, high-tempo offensive game…battles for pucks and space…a beast along the wall and difficult to move in front of the net…mixes a heavy game with very soft, skilled hands…possesses a very hard shot with quick release…makes soft, easy-to-control passes to his teammates…dangerous anytime he has the puck in the offensive zone…a powerful, long stride allows him to build impressive speed and makes him tough to stop…has the agility and balance as well as the strength and reach to really control possession in traffic and down low…defensively, he brings imposing pressure on the forecheck…not always playing at full intensity or with consistent effort…when he wants to, he can absolutely dominate physically…just a toolsy player with very high potential.”

With that in mind, we will ignore the concerns and modest numbers from Frolunda, and go with Kevin Allen to “believe,” in the noted vision, strength, and soft touch yet another Finn could bring to the franchise. Just call Sunrise, Helsinki south!

We picked Vesalainen in the 2017 SBN NHL Mock Draft. Do you agree with our pick?


The Los Angeles Kings are now on the mock clock. Enjoy the rest of the first round. You can follow along with the draft here.