Benning on taking Juolevi 5th overall: ‘we couldn’t go by him’

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Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig / USA TODAY Sports

BUFFALO, NY – Jim Benning exercised great caution when he
invoked the name Niklas Lidstrom while describing what made Olli Juolevi so
attractive the Vancouver Canucks felt they had no choice but to nab the Finnish
defensman with the fifth overall selection in Friday’s National Hockey League
draft. 

In no way was the team’s general manager making a direct comparison between the London Knights blueliner and the Detroit Red Wings legend, but Benning was trying to convey just how much he
liked the 18-year-old’s all-around game and his ability to have an impact at
both ends of the ice.

“He’s good in his own end, he reads the play well and has
good defensive awareness,” Benning said of Juolevi’s many strengths. “And when
he gets the puck on his stick, he has his head up and he can move the puck up
ice, he can skate the puck up ice, he’s good on the power play, he can walk the
line on the power play, he gets his shot through and on the net and of all the
defensemen we liked his all-around game the best.”

Benning admitted the selection of Juolevi was a mixture of
drafting by organizational need and taking the best player available when it
was the Canucks turn to select. He said the Canucks had the four players taken
ahead of Juolevi as the top four players in the draft. Then it became a
decision of the skill of Matthew Tkachuk or the all-around game of Juolevi.

The Canucks felt choosing the first defenseman in this year’s
draft was the way to go.

“We haven’t drafted a defenseman in the first round in
eleven years, so we liked the players that went ahead of us, but we just felt
that at five, if we could get a high-end defenseman, a guy that we think is going
to be a top-pairing defenseman it served us good to keep adding to our depth on
the back end,” Benning said. “He’s a high hockey sense guy. We just thought in
today’s game the ability to break up plays and move the puck up ice is a
special skill. We felt he’s a complete defenseman and we couldn’t go by him.”

So they didn’t. Benning figures he saw Juolevi play in
person six times last season and came away impressed every time. The GM liked
the player early in the season in London, but it was Juolevi’s performance as
part of the gold medal winning Finnish team at the World Juniors that put his
draft stock in overdrive.

“He had an exceptional World Junior for a 17-year-old kid to
step in and lead his team to the championship,” Benning said. “In all my years
of scouting, I don’t think I remember a 17-year-old defenseman doing what he
did at the world juniors.”

Juolevi added a Memorial Cup to his trophy case a month ago
and hopes to use the summer to bulk up in an attempt to turn heads at his first
NHL training camp in September. It’s a bold statement, but one made by so many
of the top picks oozing confidence from every pore in the moments after hearing
their name at the draft. It’s unlikely he’ll earn a spot on the Canucks next
season, but Benning said the physical limitations are the only thing holding
him back.

In terms of the way he processes the game, the GM believes
Juolevi will fit in with veterans who have been playing at the highest level
for years.

“He’s got the hockey sense to step in play,” he said. “The pace
of the NHL game is not going to affect him. He needs to get physically stronger.
He’s almost 6’3” and is 183 pounds right now, so if he has a good summer and
adds strength to his frame, because he’s so smart and reads the play so well,
he could come in and not look out of place.”

Just as long as no one is expecting the second coming of Niklas
Lidstrom.

  • Chowderhead

    Our young d core for the future is starting to take shape now. If Juolevi is a top 2 d man and Jordan Subban who can be as good as his brother than we got a scary top 2 for the future. Then we got traymkin (maybe next chara) along side of Hutton, Tanev and Gudbranson. Call me crazy but this looks like a solid d core if every thing falls into place

  • Chowderhead

    Yeah aster the initial disappointment of Columbustaken Pierre and Edmonton getting Jesse,I guess this Juolevi might be a dandy pick afterall. And by not taking Tkachuk it seems logical we are going hard for Lucic who is a proven tough guy scorer. And this d group will be much much better/bigger with Gudbranson added and minusing hammy/bartkowski/biega.

  • Gunnar

    When the top 4 went as it did Benning had no choice but to draft Defence. Canucks have drafted wingers in the first round the last 2 drafts you can not win with a team built from wings in I.E. Oilers. I would have prefered to drop and get a 2nd but if no other team willing to play ball I can live with this selection. Now if Benning can only figure out how to complete a trade without grossly overpaying or devaluing our assets to less then zero maybe the Canucks will be getting somewhere come the end of draft…. yeah even I couldn’t finish that sentence without laughing/crying. Go Canucks go.