Connect with us


Winnipeg Jets prospects Kristian Vesalainen and David Gustafsson developed chemistry on and off the ice in push to make the NHL

Chemistry has developed between the two Jets prospects on and off the ice.

When a draft pick doesn’t immediately set the world on fire at the minor league level it can become quite the opportunity to hit the panic button for some fans.  It ignores the strain a young hockey player can be under, especially one with the high expectations often placed on a 1st or 2nd round pick.  Couple that with the change in culture coming over from Europe and it can sometimes take a few years for a draft pick to feel comfortable in their new environment.

The 2019-20 season was Kristian Vesalainen‘s second pro season (first full one) here in North America and the weight of expectations was heavy on the shoulders of the Finnish prospect.  While this Moose team didn’t have a ton of firepower on it this season (they ultimately finished the abbreviated year 27th overall in goals for) he would end up contributing 12 goals and 18 assists for 30 points in 60 games.  But making it to the NHL cannot just be all about scoring and we saw Moose bench boss Pascal Vincent trusting the talented winger with non-offensive responsibilities like the penalty kill.

After unexpectedly making the Jets out of training camp 2018 2nd rounder David Gustafsson was assigned to the Moose following the World Juniors.  He was injured following that tournament but would end up playing 13 games for Manitoba starting in February once he got healthy before the season was cut short in March.  The last 10 of those 13 games he spent centering a line with Kristian Vesalainen on his wing.

It was clear to those of us watching on a regular basis that these two players were quite comfortable with each other both on and off the ice. It helps that Vesalainen spent two season playing hockey in Sweden and is comfortable conversing with Gustafsson in his native tongue. A point that Gustafsson referenced following a game “Makes it a lot easier for me to have someone to talk Swedish to here.”

Photo Credit: Jonathan Kozub (Manitoba Moose)

Back in March when David Gustafsson scored his first AHL goal in Winnipeg he was asked after the game against the Iowa Wild about how the games of the two talented Europeans compliment each other.

“We know each other well outside the ice. He’s a great guy, love to hang around with him outside the ice. Think that helps a lot on the ice. You find each other better. Makes it easier to talk hockey on the ice.”  He went on to add this about their ability to read each other “He played some (hockey) in Sweden so we both have the same style of playing hockey so that makes it a lot easier.”

In that contest against the Wild Gustafsson had a goal and assist while Vesalainen popped in a goal. Head coach Pascal Vincent was asked how the the two Jets draft picks are helping each other develop and grow their games.

“I think Gus is taking advantage of the fact that he’s playing with Ves and vice-versa. They have good chemistry together. You can tell even off the ice, they get along and they spend a lot of time in practices, at the end of practices, working on some stuff together. So there is a chemistry between the two of them. They are building this, they understand where the other guy is going on the ice, what kind of decisions the other guy is going to make with the puck.”

Considering Gustafsson is known for his defensive ability while Vesalainen has excellent offensive talent that too is rubbing off on the other according to Pascal Vincent.

“What’s helping Ves also is Gus is so sound defensively. He knows he’s going to come back and play down low, play well defensively in the Dzone so there’s a connection defensively that is helping Ves and offensively that is helping Gus on the other side cause Ves will make some plays. So they are helping each other and that is good to see.”

Photo Credit: Jonathan Kozub (Manitoba Moose)

That game against Iowa in mid March would be the last one of the 2019-20 AHL season which has now been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

I caught up with coach Vincent now that he’s had a few months to look back and evaluate the season and asked him about the development he saw from Vesalainen in his first full season with the Moose and how the chemistry he and Gustafsson developed benefited the two players.

“By the end of the year we could tell. When you look at him (Vesalainen) play 3 on 3 and 4 on 4, when there is time and space on the ice he is a really powerful guy, even in the American League. It’s just that the 5 on 5 game is played differently here. It takes him a little bit longer than what people could have expected but not for us. We know there is some work to do but the tools are there. What needs to be improved is something he can improve. If you talk about a player and say ‘He needs to improve his size’, well that’s going to be hard to do. If you’re 5’8″, you’re 5’8″.  You can work on your size as much as you can but I don’t think it’s going to work. In Ves, the things he needs to improve he can control all of those things and I think he’s guilty of being really hard on himself way too often and that slowed him down. It’s good to be hard on yourself but it has got to make sense. He was pushing himself to a point where it almost slowed him down and that’s fine. It happens. A lot actually. But his desire to make it to the NHL is there and the potential is there.”

He went on to talk about how the addition of Gustafsson was a boon to Vesalainen and vice-versa.

“I think you have a guy like Gus come in along the way and he’s got a different approach, a different experience. If you surround yourself with successful, positive and the right people then you are going to improve just by being with those people.  If you surround yourself with miserable people, people who find excuses and negative people then all of a sudden your mindset is going to shift to a negative mindset. I think they are pushing each other.”

Photo Credit: Jonathan Kozub (Manitoba Moose)

Jets fans can expect to see and hear (likely in Swedish) plenty of Kristian Vesalainen and David Gustafsson working together both on and off the ice in the coming years as the two prospects push each other to reach that next ultimate level in pro hockey.