Vancouver Canucks: Sami Salo praises Olli Juolevi for improving

LONDON, ON - FEBRUARY 1: Olli Juolevi
LONDON, ON - FEBRUARY 1: Olli Juolevi /

Vancouver Canucks prospect Olli Juolevi has developed slowly, but Sami Salo told News 1130’s Rick Dhaliwal that the Finnish standout made significant improvement this season.

Rather than take the best player available with the fifth-overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning went with an organizational need.

Thus, he selected defenceman Olli Juolevi, even though Matthew Tkachuk was widely regarded as the better player. But while Tkachuk has morphed into one of the better young power forwards in the NHL, Juolevi’s development has been slow, and the scouts haven’t been scared to point out the flaws in his game.

With that, Benning has gotten plenty of criticism for drafting Juolevi, even though he’ll only be 20  on May 5 and had a productive year for TPS in the Finnish Elite League. Juolevi had 19 points in 38 games and contributed seven points in 11 playoff games.

And for fans who are still worried and frustrated about Juolevi’s development, former Canucks blueliner Sami Salo — who’s been training the 6-foot-3 prospect — noted the developments he made this season.

Juolevi will now be trying out for Finland at the upcoming World Hockey Championships in Denmark, which run from May 4 to 20, instead of joining the AHL’s Utica Comets.

It could take a few months until we find out if Juolevi will make the Canucks next season or not. Blueliners tend to take longer to develop than forwards, but Vancouver may be forced to trade out a disgruntled Ben Hutton this offseason, and you have to think Benning may consider moving his top trade chip in Chris Tanev.

Should a couple roster spots on the blue line open up, turning Juolevi pro in 2018-19 may be a no-brainer for the Canucks. With Elias Pettersson, Jonathan Dahlen and Thatcher Demko all strong candidates to make the team next season, it may be worth bringing up Juolevi too.

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But for now, all Juolevi can do is work more on his game and hope the development can come quickly. After all, it’s been a long time since the Canucks had a defensive prospect to be excited about.