Vancouver Canucks: What to expect from Olli Juolevi next season

LONDON, ON - FEBRUARY 17: Olli Juolevi #4 of the London Knights fires a pass against the Owen Sound Attack during an OHL game at Budweiser Gardens on February 17, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Attack defeated the Knights 6-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ON - FEBRUARY 17: Olli Juolevi #4 of the London Knights fires a pass against the Owen Sound Attack during an OHL game at Budweiser Gardens on February 17, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Attack defeated the Knights 6-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

Olli Juolevi knows exactly what he needs to do this summer. Hopefully, he can make up for last year’s poor camp and secure a roster spot. Assuming he does, here is what we should expect from his rookie season.

The offseason is a crucial time for hockey players. Time to relax and reset, as well as beginning the training that will be vital in the preseason. For players on the bubble like Olli Juolevi, the pressure during this time to make the Vancouver Canucks is higher than ever.

Under the watchful eye of former Canuck, Sami Salo, Juolevi is in good hands. This past season in the Finnish Liiga was something that he needed. Something to shake off the terrible camp he had in 2017. Juolevi put on some muscle, but the initial fear about his poor play was the loss of his speed. After this season in Finland, some of those fears were alleviated.

It’s no secret what Juolevi needs to work on. Thankfully, this is the easiest thing for a player to fix over a summer. You can’t teach talent, so it’s a positive sign amidst a time of uncertainty, along with the weight of his draft status hanging overhead.

Making camp

For the purposes of today, we will assume Juolevi has a great summer and is good enough to start with the Canucks. Additionally, we will assume that the team is bringing back the main eight defenceman from last season. I know some of you are itching to get rid of Ben Hutton, but his value right now is a Tyler Motte-like return or future considerations. Best to just give him another season to prove he can bounce back.

So with everyone returning, we go back to that familiar logjam. That’s nine defenceman, five of them being left-handed. I know Derrick Pouliot plays on the right side, but based on Travis Green‘s Gung-Ho attitude towards handedness, I would think he prefers Pouliot on the left side.

Juolevi could push Hutton out of the lineup at camp, but I’m not sure if Jim Benning is willing to risk losing Hutton on waivers. So, what will the team do in that situation? They will give him the Troy Stecher treatment.

Basically, Juolevi will join the Utica Comets at the start of the season. Once the injuries hit (and they will), Juolevi can be the first call up. An injury to the left side of the defence would be ideal, otherwise the team would call up a depth defenceman to sit in the pressbox.

Expected deployment

Juolevi’s deployment on the Canucks blue line will require injuries. I can’t see the team carrying nine defencemen, since they will only have 12 forwards. Alex Biega can play forward during desperate times, but it does not make sense to intentionally create a lineup issue.

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Many expect Juolevi to play with Chris Tanev, but I believe Green would prefer Tanev to stay in the top four. Erik Gudbranson‘s contract will keep him in the top four as well, likely attached to Alex Edler. That leaves Michael Del Zotto to play with Tanev. Will Juolevi play better than Del Zotto? Potentially. Hutton and Pouliot were better and the Canucks DJ still had priority over both due to his “experience” last season.

Vancouver is very committed to a pair of bad defencemen and that will be another obstacle placed in front of Olli Juolevi. Is this fair or derived from merit? Of course not, but that’s how the NHL operates.

This means Hutton, Pouliot and Juolevi would be rotating scratches in that final spot on the left side. I may as well prepare you now, Juolevi will be scratched more often than the other two. If he can prove to be better than Hutton, that could change.

Offensive predictions

Producing is supposed to be Juolevi’s strength and this will be tested without power play time. Unfortunately, Edler, Del Zotto, Pouliot and Hutton will get the nod before he does. If the team keeps their four-forward sets, I don’t expect any power play time for Juolevi.

That being said, if Juolevi can play at least 45 games, I don’t think it’s crazy to expect 10-12 points. If by some miracle he gets a full season, that pro-rates to 18-20. It doesn’t sound like much, but I don’t expect Green to put him in a position to thrive offensively.

I fully expect the coach to put an emphasis on his defensive game first. Since Juolevi is younger, there won’t be as much pressure for him to produce as with Hutton and Pouliot. With the way this team is built, coupled with the coach’s favourites, Juolevi is going to have to do a lot to break through it.

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Just like Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser, Juolevi will have to find a way to succeed in spite of his coaches, not because of them. They will hold him back and create adversity, whether they intend to or not. Regardless, I think Juolevi has the talent to eventually hold down a second pairing spot in the Canucks future blue line. Keep in mind, the team could just keep him in Utica for the whole season. There is a lot of time between now and October, so I am very interested to see how this plays out.