2016-17 Team: Tri-City Americans (#8)
Date of Birth: October 6, 1998
Place of Birth: Nokia, Finland
Ht: 6’2″ Wt: 201 lbs
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2017 first-year eligible
- THW (Pike’s Picks): 9th (final)
- Future Considerations: 12th (final)
- ISS: 14th (May)
- Bob McKenzie: 16th (Mid-season)
- Craig Button: 17th (final)
- The Hockey News: 18th (final)
Over the past several years, Finland has sent a steady diet of very good young defensemen to both North American junior hockey and, eventually, the National Hockey League. The 2016 Draft had Olli Juolevi. This year’s standout Finnish defenseman is Juuso Välimäki of the Tri-City Americans.
A product of the Finnish developmental system who has worked through the various junior leagues across the pond, he established himself as a 16-year-old as one of the best under-20 defenders in Finland. He came over to North America in the 2015 CHL Import Draft as a 17-year-old and seemed to adjust to the smaller North American ice rather quickly. He accumulated 32 points as a rookie in the Western Hockey League and nearly doubled his production to 61 points this season.
On many levels, Välimäki is a scout’s dream: he’s big and uses his size intelligently, not pulling himself out of position to make hits but not shying away from using physicality to help his team. He’s equal parts distributor and shooter, though he sometimes needs to pick his spots better as a shooter and relies on power play production for a lot of his offense. Moreover, Välimäki processes the game at a high level and isn’t often caught out of position, even when playing the opposition’s best players.
It’s hard to go wrong with Finnish defensemen these days, and Välimäki is a strong addition to the crop of blueliners being produced by Finland. He’ll be a nice addition for some NHL club in the first round of the 2017 Draft.
NHL Draft Projection:
On most recent rankings or projections, Valimaki has ranged between 11th and 21st. Most likely he’ll go somewhere in the middle of the first round of this year’s draft.
“I think his offensive game has really come along this year. He’s got a fair number of goals and he’s pushing the game offensively more than he did last year. Last year he was good offensively … he moved the puck but he got hurt and missed a lot of time. He was feeling his way more last year. This year he’s been more assertive and he’s trying to dictate the game more.” – John Williams, NHL Central Scouting.
“Valimaki has better than average size, skating, skill and is one of the older players in the 2017 draft class. His offensive output didn’t materialize at the World Junior for a struggling Team Finland but has been over a point per game producer in his second season in the WHL. Valimaki will excel at the NHL with his speed and ability to carry the puck up ice as well as make exceptional outlet passes. His skating is an asset and in conjunction with his size he plays the prototypical modern day NHL style of game.” – Peter Harling, Dobber Prospects.
- Good hockey sense.
- Good vision, effective distributor of the puck.
- Strong skater.
- Uses his size fairly well.
Under Construction (Improvements to Make):
- Needs to improve his shot accuracy (and power).
- Needs to continue to develop his defensive tendencies.
PP quarterback, strong puck-moving defender (a Finnish T.J. Brodie).
Risk – 1.5/5, Reward – 4/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential:
Offense 8/10, Defense 7/10
Välimäki has represented Finland at two Ivan Hlinka tournaments, two Under-18 World Championships and a World Junior Championship. He won silver at the 2015 Under-18 Worlds and gold at the 2016 Under-18 Worlds.
He was named a Second Team WHL Western Conference All-Star this season.
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.