Juolevi’s Time to Shine
There was a flurry of Canucks news this past week that has left the Vancouver fan base in a frenzy. The last of which was Quinn Hughes deciding he would be returning to the University of Michigan for the upcoming 2018–19 season. Now, while the discussion on whether Hughes would’ve been an upgrade on this current defense core has to wait another year, it opens the door to one that most fans put on the back burner (Heh, Juolevi pun). Is Olli Juolevi an upgrade on this current defense core? I believe he‘s fully capable of pushing out one of Hutton, Pouliot, or Del Zotto on the left side of the Canucks blue line for the upcoming year.
Up above are the statistics for the much-maligned Canucks prospect. Much has been made about the fact that Juolevi hasn’t been able to step into the Canucks roster in his D+2 season while others in his draft class such as Charlie McAvoy and Mikhail Sergachev have, among others. It is also fair to wonder if Juolevi will ever be better than Matthew Tkachuk who was drafted right after him. Understanding all of this, I want to make a note that even if Juolevi doesn’t play a game with the Canucks this year, a pretty good Canucks defenseman by the name of Matthias Ohlund didn’t play his first game in Vancouver until his D+4 season. We’re going to be taking a focus primarily at Juolevi’s play from the 2017–18 season with TPS Turku, and discussing his critics before making a mention of who he needs to beat out for a roster spot.
(Credit to @Canucks Prospects youtube channel for this video)
The season he had was up and down, but that end of the year playoff stretch, along with a strong showing at the World Junior Championship was an excellent way of improving his stock.
Most of the highlight package above shows off Juolevi’s great wrist shot, his ability to drive to the net to make something happen, and his offensive awareness when it comes to finding an open man for a quality scoring chance. It should be noted that his offense isn’t flashy like Canucks prospect Quinn Hughes, but he gets the job done. His wrist shot is accurate, and he knows when to jump into the rush. His natural skating ability allows him to walk the blue-line in hopes of finding a better shooting lane to utilize the strength of his wrist shot, and his cross-ice vision to spot an open teammate is above average. While he’s not viewed as someone who can be a top power-play specialist. Juolevi’s offensive toolkit should allow him the ability to effectively man the 2nd power-play unit.
Juolevi worked with Sami Salo this past season with TPS Turku. Needless to say, Salo wasn’t afraid to push Juolevi in all capacities last year. One of the biggest issues with Juolevi has always been his conditioning and his lackadaisical defensive play. If that was still the case, we wouldn’t have seen Juolevi in such a large role near the end of the season and during TPS’ playoff run. There is still a lot Juolevi has to do, but the things Salo mentioned aren’t overly negative of the young D-man. The statistical line for his entire year and his playoff run would be top tier production if produced at the NHL level. Now, understanding that won’t happen it’s still safe to assume that he could reach the 22 points Derek Pouliot put up last season.
The biggest hurdle this training camp won’t be from the competition on the Canucks blue-line. Ben Hutton was only able to manage 6 assists all year and was a notable healthy scratch throughout the 2nd half of the season. Michael Del Zotto, albeit loved by coach Travis Green doesn’t provide enough offense to mask his defensive inabilities. While Pouliot has the most offense of the 3, his defensive zone play is a major work in progress. No, Juolevi’s biggest competitor is going to be from himself. With his summer already derailed due to the back surgery he had to undergo, it’s up to him and only him to come to camp in the best shape possible.
So, Hughes is going to Michigan. As much as that may suck for Canucks fans, it opens the door for the 2016 5th overall selection. Most expect he’ll be in the AHL to start the year, but let’s not count our chickens before they hatch folks. Juolevi will have every opportunity to crack this roster, and if what the Canucks management said is true at the end of last year; that they won’t return with the same blue-line they had last season… Look for Juolevi to surprise the naysayers and work his way into the opening night roster, or at the very least early on into the season.