Winnipeg Jets at the Draft: Juuso Valimaki

On the surface, Juuso Valimaki ticks quite a few of the boxes for the Winnipeg Jets.

Defenseman? Check. Left handed? Check. Puck mover, puts up points and has decent size? Check, check and check.

With all the fervor surrounding the upcoming expansion draft, it’s easy to forget the Jets have one of the busiest days of the year for scouts and GMs alike coming up in less than two weeks. So, in addition to expansion draft coverage, I’ll be taking a look at some of the players who could be slipping a Jets jersey over their head on June 23.

Valimaki, based on the criteria above, does seem like a likely candidate. As mentioned in my most recent piece on Toby Enstrom, the Jets are thin on the left side on defense. Josh Morrissey represents both the present and future of the team at that position, but in the system, only Logan Stanley appears likely to fill in on that spot in future.

So here we have a defenseman with good size (6’2″ and about 200 pounds) and excellent offensive numbers (19 goals and 61 points in 60 games in the WHL) who’s already played two years in North America and shown well in both. He has World Junior and World U18 experience under his belt. So why would he still be around when the Jets draft at 13?

Good question. As THW’s own Ryan Pike tells us, most of Valimaki’s weaknesses can be fixed with time and solid development. And there’s plenty to like, as even his skating, which is a concern to some scouts, is starting to come along nicely.

Yet few of the rankings seem to have Valimaki going any higher than 12th. The highest he was rated was from Mr. Pike, who put him at ninth. And Craig Button had him all the way down at 23.

This is the year of the caveat it seems, where every prospect has something working against him. It’s also the year of missing consensus, where no two scouts seem able to agree on a player’s potential. That would explain the discrepancy between the top and bottom end of Valimaki’s rankings, but nobody disputes that he’s a first-round talent, and the average ranking has him right around where the Jets pick.

Drafting for Need

The one good thing about this year’s draft, from a scout’s perspective, is that you could draft for need and still claim to have drafted according to best player available. That’s how nutty this first round is shaping up to be. Good luck finding any two rankings that synch up.

But if the Jets are going to draft with beefing up their defense in mind, they could do far worse than Valimaki. His offense speaks largely for itself, and unlike most offensive defensemen at his age, his defense isn’t a glaring weakness. He still jumps up into the rush a little too readily for some scouts’ liking, but the deficiencies in his game can be coached out. It’s far harder to coach a player on how to score than how to keep the puck out.

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You can definitely see some of the skill on display for Valimaki there. That he can score isn’t in question, as the offense has really been there for him at every level. Even his first year with Tri-City, his first year on North American ice, he managed seven goals and 32 points.

Fitting in the Future

The Jets are shaping up to have a lethal attack in the not-too-distant future. All the young talent the team spent years assembling up front is going to give them more firepower than they know what to do with. But, as the Colorado Avalanche will tell you, skilled forwards can struggle if you don’t have the puck moving defenders to get them the biscuit.

On the right side, the Jets are set on this front for the next few years. The left is more of an enigma. Enstrom is getting old, Mark Stuart is already there, and Ben Chiarot has yet to duplicate the solid first season he had in Winnipeg. Morrissey has years of good defense ahead of him, but he’s the closest to a sure thing the Jets have.

The fate of Stanley is still up in the air, and it was hard to gauge his season as he missed so much time with injury. Still, if he pans out as the Jets hope, a left side of Morrissey, Stanley and Valimaki is nothing to sneeze at.

In what has been a year of uncertainty as far as the draft is concerned, a year with little consensus and tons of red flags surrounding various players, Valimaki isn’t the sexiest pick, and there’s not a lot of home-run potential here. What there is, however, is the potential for a skilled, solid puck moving defenseman who can contribute on the power play.

Valimaki looks like a mature player (he’s a late-1998 birthday) and a safer pick. If some other team doesn’t snap him up first, the Jets would love for him to fall into their lap at 13.