It’s been four years of baby steps, but Olli Juolevi is poised to take a massive leap forward.
The Vancouver Canucks invigorating playoff run may have just concluded, but in this hockey-crazed market it is never too early to discuss what happens next.
It appears that Juolevi may finally be ready to be a full-time NHL player as soon as next season. At least that’s what General Manager Jim Benning thinks about the 22-year-old Finnish defender.
In the season wrap-up press conference held on Tuesday, Benning and head coach Travis Green had plenty to talk about. The playoff run was a smashing success, but a lot of questions coming from the media were already steered towards the future. That included asking about what Benning has planned for the Canucks’ blueline moving forward.
Although the defense took a step in the right direction this year, they were still considered the weakest part of the lineup and more adjustments need to be made. Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher are in need of new contracts, but with only about $17 million dollars to play with, Benning might need to rely on his up and coming youth on defense.
Benning - Juolevi looks like he is ready to play in the NHL full time.— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) September 8, 2020
Following the press conference, Benning talked to Sportsnet 650 about young Fin saying, “Juolevi looks like he is ready to play in the NHL full-time.”
The confidence in this young defender comes after a Juolevi’s promising showing from July onwards. Green often praised his work ethic and was pleasantly surprised by the way he performed when given the opportunity. With a great showing at training camp, Juolevi shot up the rankings on the team depth chart and was a surprise addition to the Canucks bubble roster.
Having an extended period of time over the COVID-19 break to focus on rehabbing previous injuries obviously went a long way. Adding the fact that he was able to spend two months with NHLers had another positive impact on Juolevi, so much so that Green inserted him as the sixth defenceman in an elimination game versus the Minnesota Wild.
Making his long awaited NHL debut, Juolevi played a sheltered role with just over six minutes of ice time, but he was solid every time he took a shift and he never made a mistake. He fit right in, and in my opinion, he deserved another look.
The biggest asset in Juolevi’s overall game has to be his ability to pass the puck up the ice perfectly from tape to tape. He has a very good first pass, and that is something Vancouver desperately needs injected into their blueline. As everyone saw in the Vegas series, the Canucks were hemmed in their own end more often than not, and that’s because they didn’t have enough active defencemen who were confident enough or fast enough to get that first pass out of the zone.
That’s where Juolevi could really make a difference for this team.
“They’re going to be in the mix,” Benning on whether young defenders like Rathbone, Juolevi and Rafferty could push for jobs at training camp 2020-21. #Canucks— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) September 8, 2020
With left side defender Jack Rathbone inking a deal with the Vancouver Canucks that begins in the 2020-21 season, Juolevi will still need to earn that final spot. With that being said, it’s some healthy competition and that should only push him even more to want that spot.
However, Benning reiterated on Tuesday that Juolevi is closest, in his eyes.
“Jalen Chatfield looks like he close to playing [in the NHL], and then we got Rathbone signed. We got some good young defenceman in our system. we got Rafferty who had a real good year in Utica, so I think all four of those guys, I think Juolevi is ready to play next year and those other three guys are going to be close.”
Either way, you can likely expect Juolevi to be in the main rotation at next season’s training camp, and he’ll be hungry to finally start his first full NHL season with the Canucks. His game has plenty of upside and it’s time to see if Juolevi can become that top-four defender everyone hopes that he can be.
The time is now. Juolevi has managed to overcome every obstacle thrown in front of his path to the greatest hockey league in all of sports, and he’ll be ready to pounce on this golden opportunity.