For the majority of this season, London Knights defenceman Olli Juolevi was in contention for the mantle of “best defenceman available” at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, duking it out with fellow OHL blueliners Jakob Chychrun and Mikhail Sergachev. Unreal performances in international tournaments drew a wealth of attention his way, and playing on the Memorial Cup winning London Knights certainly didn’t hurt.
At the end of the year, with the draft fast approaching, Juolevi ranks as the third best defenceman available, according to our rankings. However, the situation is still fluid enough that he could go at any time and could very well be the first defenceman to have his name called on June 24th.
Age: 18 (May 5th, 1998)
Birthplace: Helsinki, FIN
Frame: 6′ 2″, 183 lbs
Draft Year Team: London Knights
Accomplishments/Awards: Jr. B SM-sarja Champion (2013-14); Jr. A SM-liiga Best Defenseman, Jr. A SM-liiga First All-Star Team, Jr. A SM-liiga Rookie of the Year (2014-15); CHL Memorial Cup Champion , CHL Memorial Cup All-Star Team, CHL Top Prospects Game, OHL Champion, OHL Second All-Rookie Team, OHL Third All-Star Team, U20 WJC All-Star Team, U20 WJC Gold Medal (2015-16)
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A competitive spark-plug, Olli Juolevi is a complete, all-around defenceman that can hem the opposition in their own end or make things difficult for the opposition at home; either way, he puts the pressure on and lays it on thick. A strong and balanced skater, he can rush the puck through the neutral zone with ease or backcheck with haste. Uses his size to his advantage, but knows his physical limits and plays within them. Instead of playing overly physical, he makes his presence felt by exhibiting his high-end playmaking ability and puck possession play. All-in-all, a well-rounded blueliner who thrives under pressure and can be trusted in all situations.
Juolevi is a tremendous, powerful skater who makes carrying the puck up the ice seem effortless. What really stands out is his agility and quickness moving both laterally and backwards. You can classify him as your atypical offensive-minded defenseman who always looks to make a play or expand on one that has already developed. Transitioning from blue line to blue line is his bread and butter, and he expands his options not only from his mobility, but from his exceptional passing prowess and vision. Juolevi’s passes are hard and on the tape, and the acumen he provides while doing so is why he’s so highly regarded. He owns a very hard, accurate shot and uses it with authority on a power play chock full of snipers. The problem is that his vast arsenal of contributions begins and ends on the offensive side of the red line, as we’ve seen him struggle in corners and dealing with the OHL’s more zealous power forwards. That will certainly be a developmental area to address, particularly his leg strength and ability to pin and hold in order to wait for help to arrive. Still, this kid is so entertaining to watch that you draft him first and worry about the teachable stuff later.
One of the best defensemen in the OHL this season, Juolevi also recorded the highest point totals ever by an under-18 defenseman at the WJC. Juolevi is a fantastic skater. He exerts very little effort to get up to a dangerous top gear and moves well in all directions. His puck movement is high-end, as he shows calmness, skill and elite hockey sense when he has the puck on his stick. He’s able to QB a power play with the best of them, on top of creating dangerous chances in transition. He’s also not afraid to take risks, but he’s very calculating when he does, and rarely does he hurt his team.
Juolevi’s smarts translate to defense. He is always getting his stick on pucks and is an overall reliable defensive player in his positional play. He could stand to bulk up quite a bit, as he has a bit of a beanpole frame (6-foot-2, 182 pounds). However, Juolevi still works hard on the ice to win battles and get to pucks even if his frame isn’t ideal for those situations yet.
From the Hockey News Draft Preview
Wisdom at the start of the season had Sarnia’ Jakob Chychrun as the top defenceman of the draft, but Juolevi kept gaining and eventually passed him before the season ended. Juolevi’s star turn came at the WJC, where he was a tournament all-star and Finland’s most valuable defenceman. “When you get a 17-year-old that played those minutes against that competition, it’s impressive,” said one scout. “He’s efficient, intelligent, and has the mental maturity.
He did so in his hometown of Helsinki, en route to the nation’s second gold medal in three years. While the Finns gave up goals early, they clamped down later.
While Europeans often need an adjustment period when they come over to play major junior, Juolevi made a near-seamless transition to the OHL Knights – something that even Pittsburgh’s Olli Maata had early troubles with. “Really smart, very smooth,” said another scout. “He reads the game exceptionally well and doesn’t panic. Lots of poise, whether he’s on the power play or [moving] the puck up ice.”
Juolevi is a smooth skating, puck moving defenceman with offensive flair and a penchant for creativity. Though his defensive side is still a bit of a work in progress (and it has improved greatly over the course of the season), his ability to move the puck up the ice, and ,in particular, distribute it in his own zone, in a highly sought after skill set in the NHL.
He spent the season as part of a three-defenceman group fighting to be considered the best available at the 2016 draft. At times it looked like he was just keeping up and while at other times it seemed that he was pulling away entirely. He owes a lot of the attention he’s garnered this year to his performance in international tournaments, in particular the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki, where he helped the Finns win Gold in their home country. There have been times where it has seemed that his OHL prowess hasn’t matched up with the player that dominated on the big ice, but that player was out in full force in the OHL playoffs, and the Memorial Cup (in which he put up seven points in four games).
Juolevi was fourth among first time draft eligible defencemen in the OHL this season (behind Chychrun, Sergachev and Cam Dineen), with 41 points in 57 games. He was also fourth in primary points (trailing the same group) with 27. Juolevi also scored 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) this season on the power play. Given that the London Knights scored 93 power play goals this season, that number is actually lower than one might have hoped.
Even so, Juolevi could have the highest eventual offensive upside of the group, owing mostly to his high level hockey IQ, with an NHL scout calling him “one of the smartest players in the last few years”. He thinks the game exceptionally well and can often find solutions to problems before they even occur. His head has helped him not only on the ice, but off of it. According to Hockey Prospect’s Mark Edwards, “multiple teams raved about his combine interview being not just one of the best this year but over multiple years.”
With above average production and size and on the low end of the age scale, Olli Juolevi rates highly in terms of pGPS, with 83.3 per cent of statistical matches going on to play at least 200 NHL games. Among his most impressive comparables are Kevin Hatcher, Jeff Brown, P.K. Subban, Drew Doughty, and Alex Pietrangelo. With a pGPS P/GP of 0.40, Juolevi’s comparables have been quite productive in the NHL.
One of Juolevi’s biggest weaknesses right now is his size and strength, two attributes that are pretty easy to improve of time. If he can improve on those aspects, Juolevi has a solid shot at becoming a first pairing defenceman. “His body is still miles from where it will end up,” said one NHL scout in March of this year. “When he’s in his early twenties and has man strength he will be phenomenal.”
NHL Scouting quotes are from the Hockey Prospect 2016 NHL Draft Black Book.