Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports
BUFFALO, NY – Olli Juolevi has done a lot of winning in
He was part of Finland’s World Junior team that struck gold on home ice
in January. He was part of a London Knights team that won the Ontario Hockey
League title and then claimed the Memorial Cup a month ago. On Friday night, he
experienced another victory of sorts, as the top defenseman selected in the
National Hockey League entry draft when he was nabbed fifth overall by the
The Canucks opted for the 18-year-old from Helsinki after
their initial target coming into the draft Pierre Luc Dubois of Cape Breton was
taken third overall by Columbus. When Jesse Pulujarvi fell to Edmonton with the
fourth pick, the Canucks were left to decide between Juolevi and his London
teammate Matthew Tkachuk.
The Canucks opted for the blueliner.
“Oh yeah, it’s
awesome to be going to Vancouver,” the personable Juolevi told the media in the
interview area at the First Niagara Center. “It’s a great city. I was at the
Top Prospects game in Vancouver and I saw how great the city is and how much
they love hockey. It’s awesome.”
Juolevi , who was rated fifth among North American skaters
by NHL Central Scouting in the season-ending rankings, had nine goals and 42
points for the high-scoring Knights in his first season in North America. Yesterday,
Canucks general manager Jim Benning said he felt one defenseman in the draft
had separated himself from the others and tonight, he made it clear Juolevi was
that player when he called his name at the podium.
For his part, Juolevi claims he wasn’t worried about where
he was going to in relation to the others in the draft. He just wanted to hear
his name called as early as possible.
“Of course you hope that,” he said of being the top
defenseman. “You’re always hoping to go as high as you can. It’s weird how
drafts go, so you never know what’s going to happen. I was just ready when
someone called my name and I’m so happy that it’s Vancouver.”
The selection of Juolevi marks the first time the Canucks
have used a first round selection on a defenseman since the team took the late
Luc Bourdon tenth overall in 2005. The 6’2” and 185 pounder immediately shoots
to the top of a Canucks defensive depth chart that has been sorely lacking for
a while now. Although Juolevi may not project as a true number-one
game-changer, he is considered the type of player who can contribute in all
areas of the ice. A confident kid, he’s hoping to prove he can play in the NHL as
early as next season.
“That’s my goal,” he said confidently. “I think everybody
that goes in the top ten or so, they have to work so hard this summer. And that’s
my attitude. I want to play in this league next year and I want to come to
training camp and show what I’ve got. I think I’m an offensive defenseman but I
can play a two-way game and in all situations, but my offensive assets are my
Juolevi was joined at the draft by his parents and his two
brothers. He drew laughs when he claimed he couldn’t recall if he had ever met
former Knight and current Canuck Bo Horvat. He continued with the humour
closing his media availability demonstrating perfect use of comedic timing that
will serve him well in a hockey-mad market like Vancouver.
“I’m just happy to be a Vancouver Canuck and now I have to go
out there and work my,” he said pausing for dramatic effect as he considered
his options to complete the sentence, “hardest.”
The big smile crossing his face said it all. It’s been a
good year for Olli Juolevi. It got even better on Friday night when he was the
fifth overall selection in the NHL Draft and his hockey future came into focus.