Vancouver Canucks top prospect Olli Juolevi has had his share of ups and downs in his career so far. It appears he has turned the corner, as he is a major part of the Utica Comets 5-0 start.
It seems like a lifetime ago since the Vancouver Canucks drafted Olli Juolevi. For those who are counting, it was nearly four years ago. He has never played an NHL game and he only has 23 games of professional experience. Last season he got off to a great start putting up 13 points in 18 games before going down with yet another injury.
He again went through rigorous rehab hoping to be ready for Canucks training camp. Despite being cleared for contact and game action, Canucks management and coaching staff felt the need to keep his preseason action to a minimum. Eventually, he was sent down to the Utica Comets. The NHL dream once again was put on hold. But instead of hanging his head, Juolevi continued to work hard and stay positive.
I’m just going to take it day-by-day, but I’m feeling really happy right now… You need a lot of patience and every day might not be the best day after such a long injury. But, overall my body is definitely in better shape than last year. I’m really excited. – Juolevi
Everyone knew the Comets were going to be better this season, but I don’t think anyone envisioned a start like this. Currently on a five-game winning streak and outscoring opponents 29-11, they have been nearly unstoppable. For a team to be this dominant at any level of play, you need a top defenceman capable of eating minutes and leading the attack. Juolevi has been just that, and more.
With every game he plays, he just keeps getting better. Everyone seems to forget that he was ranked 5th by NHL Central Scouting and in the top 10 on most draft boards in 2016. There’s a reason he was ranked that high, injuries have just kept him from showing it until now.
Over the past two weeks, his skating and elite passing have been on full display. Perhaps none better than the slap pass to Reid Boucher to setup Wacey Hamilton‘s short-handed goal against the Rochester Americans last Saturday.
He usually has been money with his outlet passes and has looked at home on the powerplay quarterbacking the Comets’ number one unit. But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, as he is still experiencing some growing pains defensively.
Some of his reads have been suspect and despite the team scoring a lot of goals, he is a minus 1. Granted, plus-minus is a flawed stat, but it still means that he has been on the ice for more goals against than for. He is also the only minus defenceman on the team.
His defensive game will hopefully improve over time as he gets acclimated to the professional game. Don’t forget he only has played 23 games at the American Hockey League level, so there is plenty of time for him to work out the kinks in his defensive game.
His offensive game has been on point, however, as previously mentioned. He has a solid three points (all assists) in five games and is looking more and more like the defenceman that put together two straight 42 point seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights.
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I’m sure all Canucks fans would love to see Juolevi patrolling the Canucks’ blue line one day. I for one still believe he can be a top-four defenceman in the NHL. If he continues to build upon the impressive game he has shown early on this season, that could happen sooner than you think.