Vancouver Canucks Draft: Olli Juolevi a True No. 1 Defenseman?


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Potential Vancouver Canucks draft pick Olli Juolevi has No. 1 potential — enough for GM Jim Benning?

The Vancouver Canucks want to draft a defenseman. Never mind, they just want the best player available. Drafting at No. 5? Oh they’ll take a D-man. No wait, the forwards are more likely.

After long months of speculation, we finally know the Canucks’ exact first-round draft position. No. 5 is worse than management and fans hoped for, but it should be enough to land a top-line player. Instead of providing clarity, however, falling to fifth overall in the draft lottery really complicated things for GM Jim Benning and his scouting staff.

As Benning told TSN 1040 radio in a Monday morning interview, he would use the club’s top-five selection to pick a defenseman, but only under one condition.

If we felt there was a true No. 1 and we could get him at five, that’s where our focus would be,” Benning said. Unfortunately, though, there is an ‘if’ and a ‘would’ in that sentence and Benning does not actually believe there is a true No. 1 D-man available in the draft.

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“I don’t know if there’s a true No. 1 defenseman,” he explained. “If you look through the league right now, there’s maybe eight or 10 No. 1 defensemen in the whole league. This defense group this year, I think they’re first pairing guys where they could be a good two. But with a No. 1 defenseman, we’re talking about a guy with size and strength, who can run a power play and can match up against the other teams’ top lines. I don’t know if there is a true No. 1 defenseman in this year’s draft.”

He also added that drafting a forward, or rather a No. 1 center, to prepare for the departure of long-time captain Henrik Sedin, is the more likely option at this point.

But is he right about the defensemen?

It has long been believed that the Canucks like London Knights blueliner Olli Juolevi and they have every reason to do so. Juolevi does have the potential to be a true No. 1 defenseman — his ceiling is sky-high.

Reading scouting reports and stats on Juolevi, one might think he is mainly an offensive-minded player, even when he is labelled an all-around defenseman. He has great vision, can drive play up ice, plays terrific passes and had nine goals and 42 points in 57 games this season. Then, of course, there were his nine assists in seven games that led Team Finland to glory at the 2016 World Junior Championship.

That is not the whole story.

Read: Olli Juolevi 2016 NHL Draft Profile

Benning defines a No. 1 defenseman as “a guy with size and strength, who can run a power play and can match up against the other teams’ top lines.”

Size and strength? Check. Juolevi is listed at 6-foot-2 and 183 pounds. He may not be the most physical player, but he uses his frame well in all situations.

Run a power play? Check Juolevi, as said above, is a terrific passer with strong vision. He has above-average stick-handling and can play accurate breakout passes or set up scoring chances offensively.

Match up against other teams’ top lines? Check. Juolevi does that every night, and he does so effectively.

There is more to being a No. 1 defenseman than that, no matter which definition you go by.

Juolevi has great defensive positioning, has an active stick, can lay hits and block shots. He can play a shut-down role but also knows how to join the rush and make things happen offensively. As mentioned before, the sky is the limit with Juolevi’s tool box.

It is time to point at one small but significant detail in Benning’s interview. He never actually said there was no true No. 1 D-man in the draft. All he said was that he thinks there isn’t, but that implies that his mind may change after holding the club’s scouting meetings leading up to June 24.

Next: Beichler's Full First-Round Mock Draft

Depending on what the Oilers do with their pick (use it or trade it), one of Juolevi and Pierre-Luc Dubois will most likely be available at No. 5 (if not, one of the top three did something very wrong and the Canucks are automatically the biggest winners of the draft. Juolevi arguably has the potential to be a No. 1 defenseman while Dubois can become a No. 1 center. There are no guarantees, but they definitely have the potential.

In other words, if the Canucks stick with their pick — and they probably should — they will get one of the thing Benning wants. Which is a pretty good outcome, if you ask me.