Jim Benning and the Vancouver Canucks must take a chance on Olli Juolevi next season. The 5th overall selection in 2016 is still waiting to make his NHL debut.
COVID-19 may eventually bring the 2019-20 NHL season to an end, but what does that mean for the Vancouver Canucks? Well, a lot of different things, but for this article, in particular, it’ll mean another full year in the books without the highly anticipated NHL debut of Finnish blueliner, Olli Juolevi. Does another passing season with no debut signify the end of hope of ever seeing the 21-year-old in Van-City colours? Or does the Alex Edler comparable get another kick at the can?
With Edler entering the downslope of his career in the NHL, the Canucks need Juolevi to step up early next season, find a spot in the lineup preferably before the Christmas break, and by season’s end next year, hopefully, he becomes a full-time blueliner who can ease the heavy minutes off the shoulders of our ageing defender.
Edler will be in the final year of his two-year pact, and when that contract comes to an end, his $6 million dollar cap is relieved from Vancouver’s finances while simultaneously creating much-needed cap room for franchise players, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. They will hit RFA status together in 2021, and who knows how much money they will rightfully command? Tough to say just how much, but these two superstars completely reshaped this organization and will be the faces of Vancouver for years to come. All of Edler’s dollars will go towards re-upping the team’s elite two, but Benning will need to find money elsewhere to get them both signed. That’s why it’s so important that Juolevi has big leaps forward in his overall game next year.
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For Vancouver, Juolevi’s development is crucial next season. Beyond Olli on the depth chart, the options are slim. There are a lot of curious Canucks fans who would want nothing more than to see what kind of damage the AHL All-Star, Brogan Rafferty can dish out at the National Hockey League level, but the Canucks need a guy on the back end who thinks defence first. Is that Rafferty? Simply put, no, it’s not. He’s more like, Derrick Pouliot and he had a killer AHL campaign with the San Antonio Rampage, but we all know how his game translates to the NHL.
That’s no knock of Rafferty, he too deserves a look with the Canucks starting six, but it’s Juolevi who has the higher ceiling. Three years younger than Rafferty, Juolevi still has time to grow as his biggest competition is merely a man playing in a boys league for the Utica Comets. Rafferty is entering his prime years for physicality while Juolevi still has skates he can outgrow.
Despite multiple serious injuries into his 20’s, Juolevi has had a fairly productive 2019-20 season. He managed to put together 25 points, (2 goals, 23 assists) in 45 games played. Not bad for someone fighting off hip soreness and who was almost shut down for the entire season because of it. He was briefly taken off the roster when the soreness occurred, and there was no timeline for a comeback.
There is still work to be done before Juolevi finds himself under the spotlight in an NHL game, but he’s making strides in the right direction. If Juolevi does all the little things right in the next six months, he will find himself under the spotlight of the NHL at some point in the 2020-21 season. Let’s hope it all goes his way and he becomes a top-six D-man the Canucks need him to be.