Welcome to the Canucks Top 25 Under 25 Rankings, the series that makes you wish you were under 25 again. The list includes all players born after January 1st, 1996. Five staff writers (Beggsy, Westy, CanucksAbbyFan2, Trevor Connors, Markus Meyer) and one former staff writer (Daniel Gee, Elite Prospects) cast votes for the project.
For the first time since being drafted, Olli Juolevi looks poised to make the Canucks out of training camp.
Health issues have plagued the former fifth overall pick since he was drafted by the Canucks four and a half years ago. To paint a picture, here’s a brief recap of Juolevi’s development since he was drafted by the Canucks.
- In his draft +1 season in 2016-17, he posted an identical 42-points in the OHL with the London Knights, and underwhelmed at the World Juniors as Captain of Finland.
- In his draft +2 season in 2017-18, he joined TPS Turku of Liiga in Finland since he was still too young to join the Utica Comets. He seemed to progress well under the tutelage of assistant coach and former Canucks defenceman Sami Salo, finishing the season with 19 points in 38 games.
- Juolevi experienced back pain while training during that offseason. He ended up needing surgery to repair a disc in his lower back.
- Surprisingly, he was able to begin the 2018-19 season with the Utica Comets, and started off hot with 13 points in 18 games. However, he injured his knee and required yet another surgery, knocking him out for the rest of the season.
- He showed up for Comets training camp once again in his draft +4 season, but after playing in 14 regular season AHL games, lingering hip issues knocked him out for another month.
- Juolevi re-joined the Comets in mid-December of 2019, and he’s reportedly been healthy ever since. He finished his AHL season prior to the shutdown with two goals and 20 points in 31 games.
This is #Canucks Olli Juolevi's first game back from injury on Dec 6th. Juolevi had 1A and blocked 6 shots. The blocked shots come at; 0:16, 0:20, 0:30, 0:47, and 1:32. On for a GA, when Sautner losses the puck at 1:53 - such a broken play. The reverse pass never comes.— Daniel Gee (@DanielGScouting) December 9, 2019
It seems like Juolevi has been with the organization forever. That makes sense when you consider the Canucks drafted two superstars in Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes AFTER selecting the Helsinki, Finland native.
However, it’s clear that injuries completely derailed Juolevi’s rookie AHL season — and after an incredibly promising start, no less.
Because of the injuries and slowed development, Juolevi has become somewhat of a forgotten prospect. However, he should be firmly back on the radar this season, since he has a good chance of making the Canucks out of camp.
Before we get to that, I reached out to Ben Birnell of the Utica Observer-Dispatch for more intel on how Juolevi’s development has gone of late.
“Being healthy will certainly give him an advantage in a battle for a roster spot. He’s a smart player, which is an advantage for him. I think the biggest thing is staying healthy.
“When he was playing with the Comets, Juolevi was playing big minutes. There’s certainly something to be said about his willingness to block shots and help on the PK.
“And, he also showed off his passing abilities, including on the power play. So, I think he helps fill roles that might be needed with the Canucks.”
Q: Does Juolevi deserve an NHL roster spot ahead of his other AHL teammates like Chatfield, Brisebois and Rafferty?
Birnell: “Chatfield is also defensive-minded and brings a physical style with his game. Brisebois also plays a more defensive style and has NHL experience. Rafferty has the obvious offensive skills but had some work to do in his own end when everything was halted.
“It will be interesting to see how much the time off has helped each of them. I could easily see any one of them nabbing a spot.
“I do think Juolevi might have the higher ceiling. Also, Ashton Sautner deserves a look because he plays a solid game.”
Q: What’s one word you would use to describe Juolevi’s most recent season?
Birnell: “I’d go with decent just because he missed time with the injuries, but did make meaningful contributions offensively and the PK when he was on playing. And, he had an opportunity in the bubble.”
What’s Next for Juolevi
In short, it’s a full-time spot on the Canucks roster.
Olli Juolevi's processing ability & elite vision on display in this clip.Don't sleep on this guy.May still be a player & a top 4 dman for #Canucks.He is doing this in a playoff game.The look offs & deception prior to passes. preventing a #mnwild breakout with well-timed pinch pic.twitter.com/L1Yd676IhL— Robby (@Dosange) August 8, 2020
Everyone who follows the Canucks is aware of the open battle for the sixth and seventh spots on the blueline, and Juolevi has to be considered a front-runner for that sixth spot.
He’s arguably the most well-rounded of any of the competing defencemen and, like Birnell mentioned, he does have the highest ceiling among his AHL counterparts.
The most logical spot for Juolevi would be to start him on the third pair for Jordie Benn. That way, you can shelter his minutes, and it gives Travis Green the opportunity to play Benn on his off-side, where he had more success previously with the Montreal Canadiens.
Juolevi just misses out on the top-10 this season, but if he follows along his current trajectory, the Finnish defender should snag a top-10 spot on our Top 25 Under 25 rankings heading into the 2021-22 season.