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What Should The Montreal Canadiens Do With RFA Jesse Ylonen?



Montreal Canadiens forward Jesse Ylonen

Montreal Canadiens forward Jesse Ylonen will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2023-24 season.

This means the risk of him moving on without compensation for the team that drafted him in the second round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft is mitigated, to a certain extent.

But when it comes to Ylonen’s place in the lineup, very few questions have been answered since the talented winger signed a one-year extension this summer.

Ylonen has shown flashes of brilliance in the AHL when he played for the Laval Rocket and managed to produce reasonably encouraging numbers, to the tune of 11 goals and 21 assists in 39 games last season. The encouraging production continued when Ylonen was promoted to the NHL, where he scored six goals and 10 assists in 37 games.

But 2023-24 has not been kind to the 24-year-old.

Seeing as he must be placed on waivers to make his way to the AHL, the Canadiens have relegated Ylonen to watching games from the press box in addition to limited appearances in the NHL lineup, most of which involved playing on grinder’s role on the fourth line.

Finding Value In Prospects

Considering the Canadiens are a team that lacks shooting talent, a player like Ylonen should be able to provide some value to the lineup.

But with all due respect to Brandon Gignac, Michael Pezzetta, Colin White, Jake Evans, and Michael Pezzetta, a young player with untapped offensive talent should not be expected to take the next step in their development if they’re not placed in a situation conducive to scoring.

Ylonen is at his best when he uses his speed to manipulate space and his vision to confuse opposing defensive schemes, not to mention he has one of the organization’s best releases, he is a wizard in the shootout, and he has certainly paid his dues in the American league.

So, what’s holding him back?

There’s no denying Ylonen’s underlying numbers took a hit this season.

At his age, he should be showing consistent improvements, but once again, we have to keep his usage in mind when evaluating his potential.

He’s not a grinder, and placing him alongside grinders does not improve his long-term outlook.

There’s a concept in hockey that suggests you should place prospects alongside the players you want them to emulate. It doesn’t just improve their odds of success, it also gives them a perfect example of a player to emulate as they attempt to improve their results.

I’d argue the team should give him a chance to play with speedster Alex Newhook and rookie Joshua Roy.

There’s very little to lose by giving him a legitimate opportunity in the top nine, and it would provide Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes with enough data to evaluate what Ylonen can bring to the table if he’s properly used.

And if the Canadiens do decide to try to trade the winger by this summer, he would likely carry much more value if he’s removed from the team’s fourth line.

Montreal Canadiens Brass Tacks

Between the fourth-line usage and recent pressbox stints, it’s clear Ylonen is not a priority in the lineup. He has been given the second-lowest average ice time at 5v5 of any player who has featured in more than 25 games.

If we’re being honest, playing a little over eight and a half minutes per night with the team’s grinders is the opposite of an ideal situation for a prospect with offensive talent.

What’s more, he has not been afforded the same grace period as many of the teams’ struggling veterans who can seemingly coast off their past accomplishments without giving any evidence of future success.

We have all seen the Canadiens’ second power-play unit in action. It’s where the offence goes to die.  Ylonen’s one-timer and the threat he presents as a talented shooter could help increase the team’s scoring output with the man advantage.

Fortunately, with the NHL’s Trade Deadline on the horizon, there could be an influx of available ice time for tweeners such as Ylonen.

The Montreal Canadiens would be wise to bite the bullet and see what the 24-year-old winger can do when given the opportunity to shine.

Giving him an increase in ice time would also mean Ylonen would have no choice but to seize his opportunity or fall further down the depth chart and be at risk of falling off the list completely.