When Vancouver Canucks fans think of their team’s prospects, they don’t seem to think much of Olli Juolevi these days. It’s time to start giving him the recognition he deserves.
Yet, when people talk about Canucks 2016 1st round pick Olli Juolevi, a lot of those smiles turn into expressions of malaise. These facial contortions are usually followed by laments of “we should’ve taken Matthew Tkachuk” or “look at all the other players picked after him who are already in the NHL”.
These sentiments need to stop.
Not only are they spectacularly unproductive, but more importantly they are premature. As cliché as it sounds, every prospect has a different development curve and what we are seeing now is no different.
Just because he hasn’t played an NHL game yet, doesn’t mean he is a bust. In fact, any Canucks fan should look at what he is doing this season and be very happy.
He has been playing in Finland’s top pro-league SM-Liiga, and has amassed 14 points in 20 games. Over the course of a 60 game season, that would put him on pace for 42 points, that would be one of the best “Under the age of 20” (U20) totals in league history. Historically speaking, it is tough for young defenceman to put up points in that league.
For example, Dallas Stars No. 1 Defenceman John Klingberg played his draft plus two season in the SM-Liiga. He only put up three points in 20 games as a U20 defenceman.
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Now, I’m not saying Juolevi is going to be a better defenceman than Klingberg (and like I said earlier everyone has a different development curve), but the points Juolevi is putting up as a 19 year old playing against men is very encouraging.
Another added positive for Juolevi playing in Finland is the fact that the ice surface is larger than it is in the NHL. This is a positive because it will help Juolevi improve on his mobility, which was hampered as a result of gaining quite a bit of muscle mass over the summer.
By not playing in the NHL this season he also got to participate in the World Juniors, where he played well, accumulating four points in five games. When Finland was eliminated in the quarter final, he was voted as one of the three best players on the team by the coaching staff.
Though you can question whether he was the best defenceman on the team, he certainly played better than Miro Heiskanen, a player who is seen as direct competition to Juolevi for a spot on Finland’s Olympic team.
Now I know he is not nearly as flashy as the defenceman picked after him like Mikhail Sergachev or Charlie McAvoy, but quieter guys have become very popular in today’s game. Look at players like Hampus Lindholm, Mattias Ekholm, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
None of these players have a 40-plus point season to their name. None of them can bring you out your seat with their play. Yet, if anyone of these players had to be made available on the trade market, nearly every GM in the league would try and acquire them.
Why? Because they can play all three zones effectively and eat up big minutes in any situation, a skill which is hard to find. This is the kind of player Juolevi can develop into. And if he does, I guarantee you he will be one very valuable player.
So remember, when you talk about Juolevi amongst yourselves, don’t be disappointed in the fact that others are in the NHL. Be happy that he is getting the proper development he needs to become the well-rounded defenceman that every NHL team desires.