The Winnipeg Jets have a problem and in the grand scheme of things it is very likely the best kind of problem to have. Their NHL roster is loaded with talented players alongside up and coming talent like Jack Roslovic or Kristian Vesalainen. The problem with that is, while the Jets have no problem rolling a consistent top nine featuring two standout offensive lines and a great third line to eat up minutes, it leaves a fourth line that consists of Vesalainen, Roslovic, and Mathieu Perreault(as per Left Wing Lock) to fight for scraps of ice time.
Perreault is fine where he is as the Jets can plug him up and down the lineup to fill in gaps, but for Roslovic and Vesalainen it’s not an ideal role to blossom into the players they can become. Especially for Vesalainen, who will sat for Brendan Lemieux against the Edmonton Oilers, the same Lemieux who has just nine games of NHL experience and 300 penalty minutes in just over two AHL seasons. There’s no reason for Vesalainen to be a healthy scratch or playing less than 10 minutes on a given night.
The solution is really rather simple for the Jets, send Vesalainen to the AHL if you aren’t going to play him in a role that suits his skill set. The offensively inclined Finn would be able to play minutes that will help him adjust and grow into the North American game. Even if the competition isn’t the same as the NHL, he will learn much more in the AHL than playing eight minutes on the fourth line.
It’s easy to understand they want to put the Finnish winger in the lineup. After all Vesalainen scored at a similar rate to Laine in their final Liiga seasons in Finland. Laine tallied 17 goals and 16 assists in 46 games while Vesalainen had 19 goals, 20 assists in 44 games. This is not to say that they’re the same player, but they’re both offensively gifted forwards with Laine being a premier sniper in the NHL while Vesalainen is looking to find out what his role will be. He won’t be able to do that in his current spot, playing so few minutes a night on the fourth line.
The Jets wouldn’t be doing wrong by Vesalainen either, plenty of teams have used the AHL to give their top prospects ice time, including the Maple Leafs or the Rangers currently. The Leafs have used the AHL to keep players like William Nylander out of disastrous NHL teams to let him grow, while also using their minor league club to grow Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Brown, and Andreas Johnsson into key pieces within their NHL roster right now. Vesalainen clearly needs to get some seasoning and the AHL is leaning heavily into a prospect league, with skill and speed reigning while the age of goons and fights is going by the wayside.
The Rangers had a tough choice this year, and they opted to send 2017 first round pick Lias Andersson to their AHL affiliate. Much like Vesalainen there was likely a spot for him in the NHL, but sending him to Hartford is going to give him a much larger role is the best path for his development.
There is no downside to sending Vesalainen to the AHL right now; he doesn’t require waivers, will play in a much larger role, and won’t be shoehorned into a role with minuscule ice time like he is now. The Jets are pretty well set at the NHL level, but the true test of a franchise is how they can replace player internally when the time comes.
Kristian Vesalainen has the tools to become a dominant NHL player in time,but if the Jets aren’t giving him the proper ice time he’ll never hit that potential. Giving him a role on the Moose is the best course of action, at least if the organization is serious about turning him into a key piece in the future.
It’s a simple move, but it will make all the difference in the world.