For the first time since the 2009 NHL Draft, the Calgary Flames opted to take a defenseman in the first round. Eight years after Darryl Sutter selected Swedish defender Tim Erixon, Brad Treliving selected Finnish blueliner Juuso Valimaki at 16th overall.
An 18-year-old product of Nokia, Finland, Valimaki came to the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League in the 2015 CHL Import Draft. It seems to have been a good decision on his part, as he put together two very productive seasons on Tri-City’s blueline: 32 points in 2015-16 and 61 points in 2016-17. Speaking following his selection at the United Center, Valimaki shared that he thinks he fits in well with the Flames prospect group.
“They have really good D there and they have developed really good defensemen,” said Valimaki. “I think I’ll fit in very good.”
Strong Offensive Player
Flames general manager Brad Treliving praised Valimaki and noted – joking that everybody says that on draft day – that his club is very happy with the player they selected. He praised his offensive skill, his mobility and his calmness in pressure situations.
“This is a guy who we’ve liked a lot,” said Treliving. “Highly intelligent, the ceiling on this guy is big. Big, strong mobile defenseman. Plays a real proactive game. We like his giddy-up and the character of this kid. He’s a real driven young man. We think there’s a high ceiling on him and we think he’s going to put the work in to reach that.”
Valimaki indicated a level of comfort with the Flames following his selection. He visited Calgary once as a WHL rookie (he had two assists in a Tri-City loss) and enjoyed the arena, while he felt he had a good interview with the Flames at the draft combine – the Flames’ Finnish scout had a subsequent follow-up conversation with him that cemented the feeling.
Praised for Determination
Head amateur scout Tod Button praised Valimaki’s determination following the first round. For what it’s worth, the Finn shared with reporters that he believes he can make the team in two years – likely a reflection of that determination.
“The thing that we really admired about him and we liked him was his will to get things done,” said Button. “He’s got great determination, he wants to make a difference in the games. Now, sometimes when you try to make a difference you make mistakes, but even though he made some mistakes it was overwhelmingly he made more positive plays than he made mistakes.”
Adding to Defensive Depth
The selection of a defenseman continues an accumulation of depth at a few key positions by the Flames. Recent drafts prioritized centers (Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Dillon Dube and Matthew Phillips), goaltenders (Jon Gillies, Mason McDonald and Tyler Parsons) and defensemen (Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington and Adam Fox). Valimaki’s addition adds to the Flames’ depth and gives them more options if they choose to flip a prospect to shore up an NHL roster position, as they did prior to the draft by acquiring Mike Smith from Arizona.
“You look down center ice, we’ve got some depth there,” said Treliving. “We’ve got strength there. And we’ve started to accumulate some pillars in the back end over the course of the last couple years. Bringing Valimaki in here, we think he’s going to be a really good addition.”
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.