Christmas break is coming to a close and Vancouver Canucks prospect Olli Juolevi still hasn’t made his NHL debut. Is all hope lost for the Finnish defender?
Long before the summer draft of 2016, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning set his sights on London Knights defender Olli Juolevi.
At the time, Vancouver’s depth on defence was slim, and Benning made a choice not to draft the best player available, rather choosing to select the player he thought was most suited to fill the team’s needs.
Fast forward three seasons, and Juolevi still hasn’t filled the role he was drafted for, and injuries have been the biggest factor.
Juolevi stood out as a great candidate who could fit the shoe so to speak, after he put up 42 points in 57 games in the OHL. Some high numbers for a guy who plays a similar style to a stud defenceman in Alexander Edler. The kicker that Benning and company may have overlooked was the fact that he was playing on a stacked power play with now NHL greats, Matthew Tkachuk and Mitch Marner.
It’s hard for any Vancouver fan to see Tkachuk thrive with the Calgary Flames right out of the gate, especially after Benning passed on the son of legendary Keith Tkachuk for a player who still hasn’t seen an NHL game.
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For the most part, Benning has been a draft king for the Canucks, but he dropped the ball on this one.
I would like to hear an explanation of how drafting a 42-point defender on a Memorial Cup winning team was a better option than selecting his teammate who had 107.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but there is still time for Juolevi to turn this around and help the team compete for a Stanley Cup championship.
A torn meniscus held Juolevi out of the majority of games in 2018, and the Canucks were going to be patient in his return to action. A plan was put in place to see Juolevi work hard at the AHL level, play a ton of minutes, get the knee back to full strength and hopefully debut in the NHL by the midway mark of the 2019-2020 campaign.
Things were running smoothly early on for Juolevi, but out of nowhere, it was announced that Juolevi was heading back to Vancouver to see a specialist and was taken off of the active roster. Not a good sign, but some much-needed luck rose to the surface, and Juolevi’s hip issues had simmered down and he was able to return to Utica to rejoin the Comets. That brought a glimmer of hope for the Canucks.
Without a doubt, it has been a difficult road for Juolevi — who has nine points recorded through 23 games with Utica this season. Those aren’t spectacular numbers for a third-year prospect, but considering all the major injuries he’s had to overcome, everyone should be happy with his progression. Does Sami Salo ring a bell?
Juolevi has seen a dip in his time on ice, probably for the best as the team needs to be extremely cautious moving forward. One more serious incident could sideline Juolevi for the long term or even end his chances of being an NHL player.
Brogan Rafferty has surpassed Juolevi on the depth charts, as he has taken over on the top power play unit and is completely crushing it statistically as a defender in the AHL. Juolevi shouldn’t think too much of it, though as he needs to focus on the simple things and take his time shaping his craft to be of NHL caliber.
There is still hope for Juolevi to be a reliable top-four defender for the Canucks. If he can mould his game in a similar style of Edler, then Juolevi will be a great replacement for when the Swede is ready to retire.
If it weren’t for injuries, Juolevi would probably be inside the main roster’s top-six already, Nonetheless, the patient approach is the right thing to do, and there is still a chance that Juolevi will see NHL ice time in 2020.