Canucks: 2021 will be a crucial year for defenceman Olli Juolevi

Olli Juolevi’s path with the Vancouver Canucks has been a difficult journey. What happens to him in 2021 could define his future as a professional hockey player.

After making a very good impression on the Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green during his time spent inside the Edmonton playoff bubble, signs are pointing to defender Olli Juolevi making the jump into the National Hockey League. If he starts the 2021 season as a member of the Canucks main roster, it’ll mean that his difficult five-year journey has paid off.

The struggles of Juolevi transitioning into an everyday NHL player have been well documented. He was the first defenceman to be selected in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s been held back with a handful of unfortunate injuries.

Juolevi has had major surgery on his back and on one of his knees that would spell the end of playing professional sports for most people. But Juolevi refused to give up on his dreams and took his rehab very seriously. Because of that, the moment Juolevi has been waiting for all his life appears to be now.

2021 could prove to be a very crucial year for Juolevi and the best way for him to get ahead of it is to continue building off the blessings that the strange year of 2020 has brought him. Yes, hockey was halted for nearly six months, but for Juolevi it meant an extended time to focus on his health and recovery. That resulted in hope being restored. Juolevi entered the bubble at full health and earned himself his highly anticipated NHL debut.

Now that the 22-year-old Finn has got a taste of the best hockey league on the planet, it’s very important that he continues to put his downtime in this pandemic-filled world to good use. Juolevi needs to continue building strength within the muscles of his previous injuries and he needs to get faster on the ice before coming to training camp in the New Year. He needs to take this time to make sure he comes to training camp at the peak of his physical prime.

In 2019-20, the two-way defender showed he was beginning to round the corner from his injuries. He posted 25 points in 45 contests by scoring two goals and adding 23 assists. He saw time on the power play but made his presence known on the Comets’ top penalty-killing unit. His season had some hiccups of hip soreness, but he battled through it and began showing promise of a bright future. His ability to not shy away from puck blocking shows he’s not held back by fear of another injury and it allows him to give his best effort moving forward.

Some people lost faith in the young defender over the years, but he’s had his fair share of difficult hurdles to overcome. He’s on the right track now that he’s100% healthy for the first time in what feels like forever. What happens to him in 2021 could very well shape his future as a capable NHL player.

Don’t sleep on Olli. He could very well still prove to be that all-around blueliner who lays it on thick in both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. He’s a defender with high-end playmaking skills and terrific breakout passing. He knows what he’s worth and you can count on him bringing it in 2021. It’s time for Juolevi to show everyone why Jim Benning selected him fifth overall in 2016.