Olli Juolevi’s may be running out of time to make the Vancouver Canucks opening night roster. He had a rough training camp and preseason, which could lead to him being the odd man out when the season starts. If he can not step up and impress through the final three preseason games, it could mean the end for him in Vancouver.
Juolevi’s Injury Problems
The biggest issue Juolevi has faced throughout his career is injuries. Problems with his knee have limited him to only 63 American Hockey League (AHL) games and 23 NHL games since the start of the 2018-19 season. He was finally relatively healthy last season but suffered another setback when diagnosed with COVID-19 in April. The hope is that the now 23-year old can put his injury past behind him and focus on making the team out of camp.
The Training Camp Incident
Every year, coach Travis Green makes the team do a bag skate at the end of the first practice. This season, Juolevi lagged behind and even laid down on the ice multiple times throughout the drill. It was happening so frequently that both Tyler Myers and J.T. Miller checked on him during the drill.
Coach Green was not impressed and made it known to the media after. It is understandable if a rookie or new player struggles like this through the bag skate, but this is Juolevi’s fourth training camp doing the bag skate. He should know what to expect and how to complete the drill effectively. Getting off on a wrong note with the coach is never a good sign, especially when a player is competing for one of the final roster spots.
Juolevi has not played well through the preseason so far. He had a plus/minus rating of minus-1 in each of the first two exhibition games and looked shaky throughout. Then there was game three versus Calgary, which may have been his worst in a Canucks jersey.
Juolevi posted a 33.33% Corsi rating in 13:46 of even-strength play in the third exhibition game versus Calgary. The team was also outshot seven to four at even strength while he was on the ice. The only redeeming part of his game was the penalty kill, but even that was problematic. In 7:19 of ice-time, the team gave up six scoring chances, with four of those registering as high danger chances. The bottom line is if he wants to be in an NHL regular, he must show massive improvements the rest of the preseason.
Juolevi’s Big Advantage
Juolevi is currently competing with Jack Rathbone and Brad Hunt for the third pair, left-side defenceman spot. Based on play through the training camp and preseason, it looks like he is the third-best option right now. Rathbone has been one of the best players on the ice for the Canucks this offseason, while Hunt is a proven veteran who can play both sides of the ice.
The biggest advantage Juolevi holds is his ability to play the penalty kill. With the uncertainty surrounding Travis Hamonic, the Canucks may need a shorthanded specialist on the back end. Both Rathbone and Hunt do not play on the penalty kill, which gives him a leg up if the Canucks want a left-side option other than Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
As mentioned, Juolevi has struggled so far on the penalty kill but has shown he can be productive at the NHL level. Last season, he played 18:22 of ice time while shorthanded and was able to limit the opposition to two goals and 15 shots. He can play the penalty kill; he just has not shown it yet in the preseason. The question now is if this one advantage is enough to solidify a spot on the NHL roster.
What Happens Now?
At this point, it looks like Juolevi has not done enough to make this team. That begs the question do you keep him on the roster as an eight defenceman or risk sending him through waivers before the season starts. It looks as though his time with the organization may be coming to an end as the former fifth overall pick has been passed on the depth chart by others and has not lived up to expectations.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.