I apologize in advance for getting everybody all hyped up.
Of course, as soon as you read my article about the World Championships being must-watch hockey for Canucks fans, I know you were eagerly trying to schedule time off for 10:00 a.m. games.
Most of the excitement was predicated on prospects Elias Pettersson and Olli Juolevi joining Sweden and Finland respectively. Well, only one of those turned out to be true.
Although Juolevi had a shoe-in on the job, he ended up being left off of Finland’s roster for the World Hockey Championships. It’s a disappointing turn of events for the soon-to-be 20-year-old, after a strong finish to the season with TPS.
When the Juolevi Breaks...
Juolevi improved under Sami Salo’s tutelage throughout the season. After starting off slow, Juolevi was playing top two minutes heading into the playoffs. After posting seven goals and 19 points in 38 games, Juolevi upped his performance with seven points in 11 playoff games.
He was afforded more opportunities in the SM-Liiga playoffs, with the veteran Henrik Tallinder out of the lineup. Juolevi even led his team in ice time towards the end of the playoffs, playing upwards of 25 minutes per night in TPS’s final playoff games. After struggling following the World Juniors, Juolevi improved his game and earned more minutes both late in-game and on the power play.
Although not 100% accurate, I like to compare Juolevi to Ohlund, who joined #canucks in his D+4 season. Yes, D+4. As long as mgmt is not panicking, he will develop in the best pace to reach his ceiling, which IMO is high++. That likely means lots of Utica time nxt yr. That's fine— Michael Paweska (@mrpaweska) April 30, 2018
Despite his improvements, there are still questions surrounding his conditioning. This sounds all too familiar to Ben Hutton’s situation with the Canucks this year. If you’re looking that could scare the bejeezus out of Jim Benning and company, it’s having Juolevi’s name and Hutton’s name appear in the same sentence.
There’s still a ton of promise for Juolevi’s future thanks to his improved play, but even his Salo has been critical of his play. In an interview with TSN 1040 in March, Salo mentions that Juolevi struggled after the World Juniors. However, he also said that Juolevi really started to improve his game after being a healthy scratch late in January.
“He really has to train hard in the summer if he wants to have the slightest chance of cracking the lineup,” Salo said to TSN 1040. “We noticed from our fitness testing that he has to get better physically. This summer is going to be huge for him.”
Looking at Finland’s Defence
Even though Juolevi’s season wasn’t a Picasso, his strong finish had people high on his hopes of making the Finnish team. When it came to the final cuts however, Juolevi was left off the list.
Here were the eight defencemen who were named to Finland’s roster.
- Miro Heiskanen (HIFK)
- Julius Honka (Dallas Stars)
- Niko Mikkola (Tappara)
- Markus Nutivaara (Columbus Blue Jackets)
- Tommi Kivisto (Jokerit)
- Miika Koivisto (Karpat)
- Ville Pokka (Belleville Senators)
- Juuso Riikola (KalPa)
Ironically enough, the two locks to make this roster were likely Miro Heiskanen and Markus Nutivaara. Heiskanen has enjoyed a stellar draft-plus-one season, while 2015 seventh round pick Nutivaara has solidified himself on a deep Columbus defence.
Other recognizable names include Julius Honka and Ville Pokka. Surprisingly enough, neither player enjoyed incredible success in 2017-18.
Honka, an offensively inclined defenceman, clearly wasn’t a fit under Ken Hitchcock’s season in Dallas. After having AHL success in two straight seasons with an intriguing cup of NHL coffee last year, Honka’s production fell off a cliff. He finished with one goal and four points in 42 games in Dallas.
He’s still a promising young defenceman, and perhaps he was chosen over Juolevi based on experience. The two players might be following a similar trajectory, although Honka’s selection is more justifiable at the moment at 14th overall in 2014.
One would hope that Juolevi doesn’t follow the same trajectory as Pokka. The 23-year-old seems to have leveled off in the AHL after showing promise that he was going to be a everyday NHLer.
The other four defenceman likely aren’t household names for anyone. Niko Mikkola, 22, and Tommi Kivisto, 27, are both defenceman who didn’t put up a ton of points their respective leagues. Mikkola is still a prospect in the St. Louis Blues system, while Kivisto plays in the KHL after being drafted in 2009 by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Where Juolevi might have been edged out was with these last two defencemen: Miika Koivisto and Juuso Riikola. Assuming that Miikola and Kivisto fill a defensive need, more productive options like Koivisto and Riikola were seemingly chosen ahead of Juolevi.
Koivisto just enjoyed his most successful season for Karpat with 39 points in 55 games. His 0.71 points-per-game ranks only behind Heiskanen among Finnish defencemen in SM-Liiga. Riikola wasn’t nearly as productive as Koivisto with 24 points in 59 games. His points-per-game average was also lower than Juolevi’s.
In what might have been a close race between Riikola and Juolevi, perhaps Finland went with a “better leader.” Even though Riikola is only 24 years old, he’s been an assistant captain for KalPa for the last three seasons.
Despite his exclusion from the roster, it appears to have been a tight race between Juolevi and some of the other candidates. Frustration seems to be stemming from the fact that Juolevi isn’t blossoming into the superstar that some envisioned. He’s definitely no Heiskanen, that’s for sure.
While some quabble over his exclusion and what it means for the future, what Canucks fans should focus on was his strong finish for TPS. Salo’s comments about his conditioning are concering, but the fact that Juolevi stepped up and played well towards the end of the season are encouraging. He might not live up to his lofty draft status, but he still shows promise for becoming and NHL player.