The Vancouver Canucks selected Finnish defender Olli Juolevi fifth overall in the 2016 NHL entry draft. He’s been hyped to be the future of the Canucks’ blue line but the question is, should you believe the hype?
He was the highest drafted defenceman in 2016, but so far, he’s been outclassed by some fellow draft-mates. Charlie McAvoy and Mikhail Sergachev went later in the first round and they’ve both established themselves as NHL d-men. Juolevi, on the other hand, is playing in Finland and not living up to expectations.
However, he was an OHL stud and has excelled on the international stage in the World Junior Championship. The skill is there but it’s unclear if he’ll be able to shift his game over to the NHL.
“He shows mastery of his position under the most challenging of circumstances, and his poise, calm and assuredness are the stuff of pillar-style defencemen.” – Craig Button of TSN
Juolevi’s game for the London Knights of the OHL was as complete as complete gets. His offensive production, paired with his incredible skating abilities on defence, made him an elite blueliner. In both of his OHL seasons, he managed to chalk up 42 points and, collectively, he was a remarkable plus-64. Did I mention that he hoisted the Memorial Cup in his first season (2015-16) with the Knights?
His stellar play landed him three goes at the WJC for Finland. His first, in 2016, he received the Gold Medal around his neck and tied for the lead in defensive scoring. The 2017 tournament was a disappointment, followed by a better, but not great, performance in 2018. His strong two-way play was on display in all three tournaments but his development has stalled.
As time moves on, I’m increasingly skeptical of Juolevi. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that players develop at different speeds and d-men are traditionally slower to grow. But based on what’s expected of Juolevi, I can’t help but be a little bit nervous.
The WJC was unsettling. Most players get better tournament by tournament but Juolevi was the opposite — a Benjamin Button of the WJC if you will. Granted, he was tasked with a leadership role, but still, as a tournament veteran equipped with his skill set, there should be no excuse for lackluster play.
Then there’s his play this season. For starters, he had some preseason action with the Canucks and, to say the least, it was hard to watch; a nervous Juolevi was very, very out of character. He rushed plays, was caught out of position and doubted his offensive game. Experts, though, gave the youngster the benefit of the doubt:
“They’re (preseason games) hard to play in. The play is broken. Players do things they’re not supposed to do. It’s a different game and they’re (Brock Boeser and Juolevi) also feeling the pressure. We’ll see different players at training camp.” – Corey Hirsch, Sportsnet-650
Juolevi, of course, didn’t land a roster spot and the Canucks shipped him off to Finland for further development and the woes don’t stop there. He is playing for TPS Turku of the SM-liiga and has, a not-too-shabby, 17 points in 31 games. Unfortunately, he was a healthy scratch a few times in late January and is rumored to be the team’s seventh d-man at times.
“But Matt, the kid is only 19, cut him some slack.” Oh, but I have, my friends. If you asked me a couple of months ago, I would have said Juolevi is the future of the Canucks’ blue line. Now, it’s a different story. I’m not saying that he won’t be that guy for the boys in blue and green, but I also can’t say that he will be with as much confidence.
It’s hard to deny that his development has halted, to a certain degree, and it’s nerve-racking. Sometimes prospects just can’t make the jump to the NHL and he could be one of them, even though I hope that’s not the case. Looking at Sergachev and McAvoy’s success, my uncertainty escalates.
My certainty about an NHL career for this highly-praised prospect has pretty much vanished. I’m still very excited about his future, but I can’t shake that lingering thought that he might drift into the shadows. Regardless, we will be seeing him get some NHL action within the next two seasons.
What do you think about Juolevi’s future as a Canuck? Let me know below!
Matt is a longtime fan, player and student of the game of hockey. Broadcast and Online Journalism student at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.