The Vancouver Canucks have wrapped up their training camp in Vancouver and are now beginning bubble life in Edmonton. Earlier on Sunday, they whittled down their roster by cutting forward Kole Lind, goaltender Mike DiPietro and finally defencemen Ashton Sautner and Guillaume Brisebois to bring it to the required amount of players for the hub city’s quarantine bubble.
Surviving the cut and ultimately traveling with the team to Alberta were top defensive prospects Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty. Now, they may never suit up for a game in the postseason, but just being around the team and practicing with NHL players and coaches should be invaluable to their long-term development. Not to mention they will be living in the same hotel with their teammates as well. Basically it will be a long road trip, and we all know how beneficial that can be for new players in an organization. They both played exceptionally well in training camp, so they deserve a chance to gain more valuable experience, even if it’s only ten extra days.
Juolevi Made Strides in Training Camp
After nearly four months of rest, Juolevi was declared as completely healthy and ready to make an impact in training camp. Though I don’t think many people thought he would remain part of the active roster heading to the hub city for the actual postseason. So it seems he has done enough to be a depth option for Travis Green and the Canucks.
Throughout camp, Juolevi played mostly in the second group with the Black Aces, but in the final scrimmage on Friday he was surprisingly paired with Troy Stecher in the main group, which started speculation that he may have earned a coveted spot on the postseason roster. When the final decision came down from Green, I wasn’t surprised at all that he was selected to join bubble life in Edmonton.
Juolevi had a solid two weeks of camp, where he showed off his solid first pass abilities, quiet two-way game, and most importantly, his overall health. He even looked faster out there as well, which is probably the biggest positive. Now, he didn’t blow the door down with any insane plays like Quinn Hughes displayed, though that’s not his game anyway. Ever since his time in the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights, he never was known as a flashy defenceman. He just did his job out there with smart, simple plays and great puck movement. That’s exactly what he showed in Vancouver these past two weeks. Bottom line is, he’s making strides and that’s a big positive for him.
I think I’m a lot stronger and I’m able to move a lot better…it’s been a good year…The one thing for me is to stay active, to trust myself.Olli Juolevi on the progress he has made this year (from ‘Canucks notebook: Pettersson make pitch for personality in post-season clothing’, The Province – 7/21/20)
Even Sami Salo, who coached him in Finland during the 2017-18 season was impressed with how far he’s progressed. He actually wasn’t surprised that he looked stronger after an extended break, as he’s no stranger to injuries and the subsequent rehab.
Juolevi’s major injuries have been well documented, along with his lack of development so far, though this unexpected time with the Canucks should benefit him in the long run. He will get a chance to practice and learn from veteran NHL defencemen and coaches, which could finally push him over the proverbial hurdle, even if he doesn’t end up getting into a game. I think this experience could go down as the biggest boon to his development, and you can quote me on that.
Rafferty Extends His Breakout Season
Rafferty’s addition to the bubble roster was not surprising as he was expected to be part of the contingent heading to Edmonton when he was named as one of the Black Aces before camp. Last season he was the Utica Comets’ number one defenceman as he led all blueliners with 45 points in 57 games. He’s basically one of the Canucks’ most improved prospects and has cemented himself as a potential NHL option down the road. Not bad for an undrafted free agent right?
Rafferty didn’t have a mind-blowing camp, but he did do enough to push past fellow prospects Ashton Sautner and Guillaume Brisebois. He probably won’t see any time beyond the practice ice, barring any significant injuries to multiple defencemen, but like Juolevi, he will still benefit from being around the team. His skating and offensive abilities could come in handy if a puck-moving defenceman goes down, so it’s really not surprising that Green chose to add him to the roster.
Will Juolevi or Rafferty Get Into Postseason Action?
Rafferty is probably the biggest long shot to get into game action during the postseason, but Juolevi could actually have a chance. Just looking at the way Green deployed him during the final scrimmage makes me think he could get some time on the third pairing with Stecher when the series starts on Aug 2. However, with veterans like Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg available, I think he will probably go with one of them instead. Regardless, it’s encouraging to see Juolevi in the conversation right now with all he’s been through in his young career.
Even though Benn and Fantenberg are seemingly better options with their experience in the NHL, I wouldn’t sleep on Juolevi playing a regular shift in the postseason. He is a quiet defenceman with a great first pass, and that’s what you need against a team that forechecks you hard in the defensive zone. He has also shown the ability to kill penalties successfully in Utica, so he could be an option for some special teams work too. His inexperience with NHL speed could be a risk, though Stecher should be able to cover for him if he ever gets caught. All in all, they could become a very effective third pair for the Canucks.
Other Canucks Prospects Also Benefited
Juolevi and Rafferty aren’t the only prospects that benefited from the extra training camp this season. Even though Lind, Brisebois, and Sautner got cut, they still got some valuable NHL experience that they normally would not have gotten. Lind more so than anyone else, since he has yet to play an NHL game. He had a solid two weeks, showing off his size, speed, and offensive abilities, but with the glut of forwards, he ended up being a victim of the numbers.
Lind had a massive season with the Comets accumulating 14 goals and 44 points in 61 games and continued that momentum in training camp. He ended up impressing the brass, so the cut should not be perceived as a negative by any means. In any case, the experience gained will probably go a long way in making him a regular NHL player when all is said and done. It will be interesting to follow him next season, as he likely will be one of the first call ups for the Canucks when injuries strike.
The prospects that did get to travel with the rest of the Canucks have a unique opportunity to learn from NHL coaches and players in a contained environment for at least a week. That’s something that just doesn’t happen often. It’s up to them to soak everything in, learn as much as they can, and use it to further improve their game. We will see if they can take advantage of it and move one step closer to becoming NHL players.