Vancouver Canucks: Olli Juolevi has a great debut in a lopsided loss

MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 31: Olli Juolevi
MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 31: Olli Juolevi /

The Utica Comets got off to a rough start to their season, but there is a silver lining, Vancouver Canucks fans. Olli Juolevi was one of the better Comets players in that game.

Vancouver Canucks fans are riding high now after seeing Elias Pettersson lead the team to their first win of the season. Over on the farm, the Utica Comets had the fun of facing the defending Calder Trophy Champion Toronto Marlies.

Utica opened the scoring, but quickly lost control of the game in the second and third periods. In a lopsided 7-3 defeat, both teams played a sloppy game. But this isn’t a Comets recap. I want to give a shout out to Olli Juolevi for the game he played. Giving praise to Juolevi? Yes, I can highlight the good things he does too. To make it clear, I am just going to focus on Juolevi. Nothing about Jordan Subban or Timothy Liljegren on the Marlies. No snide remarks about Sam Gagner. Just Juolevi.

So, on the surface, it doesn’t seem special because Juolevi didn’t pop up on the scoresheet. But that’s where Darryl Keeping comes in. For those who don’t know recognize his name, follow him on Twitter. He tracks zone entries for Canucks players and prospects and adds much needed context for the stats we don’t normally see from defencemen. I highly recommend you check his page out because he also broke down some Juolevi clips. Since I am not allowed to post those clips here, head over to Darryl for the visual aides.

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The AHL doesn’t usually track advanced statistics, so having awesome people like Darryl manually track is always helpful. So, let’s start with shot shares. Juolevi was on the ice for 11 shots, taking five of them. He had a corsi for of 63% and was routinely feeding Reid Boucher crisp passes for one-timers on the power play. Juolevi had six shot assists, which means that his passes were often converted into shots.

Now, if you have been following Juolevi since he was drafted, it was no surprise that he is a good quarterback on the power play. We also got to see him flex those transitional skills when controlling the puck and getting himself out of trouble in his own zone.

Speaking of transition, let’s talk about the neutral zone. Defencemen can make a decision when carrying the puck over the opposition blue line. They can just dump in the corners, which would be an uncontrolled exit, or they can pass to a teammate, or they can carry the puck in themselves (a controlled exit). That is my understanding of the concept, albeit in a rudimentary way.

With 11 controlled exits on 22 touches, Juolevi is controlling the puck from the neutral zone to the offensive zone 50% of the time, which is great. It just confirms what we knew about Juolevi’s game and now we just get to see it applied to the AHL level.

All in all, the early reports say Juolevi played a fantastic game and that’s exactly what he needs. After consecutive training camps where he underwhelmed and was questioned for looking disengaged, he needed a great start. The underlying numbers support future offensive production, but of course we hope the points arrive sooner rather than later.

The season is long, and I’m sure Pettersson will take everybody’s attention off Juolevi. And that’s not a bad thing. If he can quietly develop his game and prove he’s NHL-ready during the season, the Canucks may find the motivation to move on from some of their mediocre defencemen.

Next. Pettersson enters Canucks folklore and Utica prepares. dark

But keep in mind, the Canucks top rookies have not taken the pressure off Juolevi. I believe I have used that phrase before when Quinn Hughes was drafted and that was a mistake. Juolevi still has to prove that he is the second-pairing defender I expect him to be. But I don’t think we will have to worry too much about that. Because if he keeps playing like this, he should have no problem holding down a spot next year.