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Montreal Canadiens’ Jesse Ylönen is NHL Ready

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Montreal Canadiens

Jesse Ylönen has taken the calm and patient route in his development, and it seems to have paid off for the Montreal Canadiens.

The former 35th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft has taken the long road to the NHL, playing two and a half seasons in the Finnish Liiga with the Lahti Pelicans, before spending the better part of the last calendar year with the Laval Rocket. The son of former NHLer Juha Ylönen, Jesse could have begun his career with the Rocket a little sooner, but, as has become a common theme in the world of sport over the last two years, his debut was delayed due to the Covid-19 closures.

When the AHL started up again in 2020-2021, Ylönen impressed right off the bat, putting up 17 points in 29 games as a rookie in the AHL under Joël Bouchard. He utilized his speed and mobility to impress right off the bat and was used in all situations, growing in confidence game by game, as he continued to get acclimated to the North American style of play.

Ylönen started off the season strong in Laval, putting up 14 points in his first 17 games of the season. He was used on the first powerplay way, played top-line minutes at even strength, and was also used on the penalty kill. When the Canadiens were hit by the injury bug and a plethora of Covid-19 infections, Ylönen was called up as a reward for his consistently solid play in Laval. He began his time with the Canadiens on the fourth line, but, as the injuries continued to mount, the coaching staff under Dominic Ducharme started to play Ylönen in a top-6 setting, playing him on a line with veteran Jonathan Drouin. Ylönen had wowed fans with his speed and relentless motor on the forecheck, but he had yet to show his offensive attributes.

That all changed on December 16 in Pittsburgh, as Ylönen rifled home a powerful one-timer, his most dangerous weapon, from just above the right circle to collect his first NHL goal on a pretty set-up from Drouin. He remained with the Canadiens until January 1st in Florida while the Canadiens were exiled from the Bell Centre due to covid-19 restrictions, and was ultimately sent back down to the Rocket with NHL regulars set to return. That being said, Ylönen left quite the impression on the organization, including the new VP of Hockey Ops, Jeff Gorton, and the fanbase.

Ylönen would continue working on his offensive game while in Laval, being played on the first powerplay wave as the triggerman, while playing a sound defensive game. Ylönen continued to improve his possession-based style, becoming Laval’s go-to-guy for defensive zone breakouts and, especially, offensive zone entries, due in large part to his speed and shiftiness on the rush. Ylönen was never projected to be a top offensive producer at the NHL level, but continued to work on the aptitudes that would make him valuable under the Montreal Canadiens’ new vision for the team, predicated on speed and skill.

When Ylönen was called up again this week, he didn’t miss an opportunity to show the improvements he had brought to his game. When inserted into the lineup in Sunday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils, Ylönen played primarily in a fourth line role to start and was one of the top players for the Canadiens in transition. He carried the puck with confidence and was in constant motion, and executed a very aggressive forecheck when he didn’t have the puck. Head coach Martin St. Louis rewarded Ylönen and the rest of the Canadiens’ fourth line for their efforts in the game by giving them powerplay time in the dying seconds of a failed 5-on-3 turned 5-on-4. They wasted no time in going to work, with Ylönen setting up shop in his usual spot at the top of the left circle, and unleashed a strong one-timer off a pass from Chris Wideman that Josh Anderson ultimately deflected in. Ylönen continued to gain in momentum in that game, despite only getting about 7 minutes of ice time.

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Last night against the Florida Panthers, that same fourth line went to work right away for the Canadiens. Ylönen took a beautiful feed from Laurent Dauphin in full stride, entered the offensive zone with ease and showed great patience before setting up Chris Wideman for a one-timer and giving the Canadiens the lead with less than three minutes into the game. In the past, Ylönen would have been eager to try and make a difference in his game, by either trying to take a shot from the left circle or trying to skate the puck around the net to open up passing lanes. Instead, he showed the growth in his on-ice maturity by waiting out the Panthers’ defence, which opened up the slot, allowing Wideman to walk in and score.

Although the Panthers eventually defeated the Canadiens in convincing fashion, Ylönen made the most of his time while on the ice by playing with pace and making intelligent decisions with the puck. His line would score another goal that he helped create low in the offensive zone, as he beat the Panthers’ defence to the puck and cycled the puck back to the Chris Wideman, who put the puck on net, ultimately resulting in a goal by Dauphin. Ylönen wasn’t credited with an assist, but was pivotal in making that play work, again using his speed and solid puck protection skills to attract coverage and make a play.

Ylönen is doing his best to show the Montreal Canadiens that he is ready for the next step in his career, as he is the most NHL-ready forward on the Laval Rocket this season. He’s shown growth in his game and still needs to fill out physically this summer, but the aptitudes and good habits he’s developed in the AHL have him poised to be a major player for the Montreal Canadiens going into Training Camp next season.

 

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