Should Canucks Fans Be Worried About Olli Juolevi?

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Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig

Now that we’re over a quarter of the way through the CHL season, we now have a large enough sample size that we can begin to make inferences about how players are performing and how coaches deploy them. We’re also far enough into the season that narratives and concerns can start to take form.

With Friday’s tilt between the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack and London Knights televised on the west coast, many Canucks fans got their first look at Juolevi this season. But to their surprise, Juolevi was skating predominantly on the Knights’ second pair, behind 19-year-old Brandon Crawley and Montreal Canadiens 2016 pick Victor Mete.

That wasn’t the only troubling thing for Canucks fans about Friday’s game. His performance was underwhelming, to say the least. Juolevi took a pair of penalties in the third period and coughed up the puck on numerous occasions, one of which resulted directly in an Owen Sound goal. 

Juolevi hasn’t exactly set the world aflame in his draft+1 season so far, and with Matthew Tkachuk already making an impact in the Flames’ lineup, it hasn’t been a great look for the Canucks.

This may seem like cause for concern, but let me assure you, it most certainly isn’t. 

First of all, in spite of playing on the Knights’ ostensible second pair, Juolevi isn’t being deployed like a traditional #3-4 defenseman. Juolevi plays primarily with Evan Bouchard, but he’s often double-shifted, taking time with Mete as well, and he’s leading the Knights in even-strength estimated TOI with 18 and a half minutes per game.

This is common in junior hockey. The spread in talent from top to bottom of a CHL team’s lineup is often wide, and it’s not uncommon to see coaches spread their top defensemen across two or even all three defence pairs. In Juolevi’s case, he’s likely being used to help insulate his most frequent linemate Evan Bouchard, who just turned 17. 

Juolevi’s currently on pace to match his totals from last year, but his boxcars this season belie his real abilities. He sits just 16th among OHL defensemen in overall points, but he’s played fewer games this season than many of his competitors. Once we make some contextual adjustments to Juolevi’s numbers, he begins to look better. 

 The best way to evaluate junior hockey production is to compare a player to his peers, using primary point production. Secondary Assists are generally a poor representation of a player’s offensive contributions, as factors beyond the player’s control often influence these results. Juolevi is currently rocking a primary assist rate that’s lower than 11 of the 15 players ahead of him in OHL D scoring, which is in part responsible for his underwhelming boxcar stats. 

18yo D primary points per game 

*Data courtesy of prospect-stats.com 

Among 18-year-old defencemen, Juolevi ranks fourth in goals, primary points, and primary points-per-game. He’s also third in goals-per-game and ranks in the top 10 in primary assists. All this just serves to underline that Juolevi remains an elite draft+1 defenseman at the OHL level. 

There’s only so much a stat line can tell you about a junior player, especially one whose contributions on are on the defensive side of the puck, which is why I reached out to Corey Pronman, a writer for ESPN Insider and friend of the blog for some insight into Juolevi’s season thus far. Pronman immediately threw cold water on the notion Juolevi’s underperformed this season and indicated changes in his deployment had more to do with Mete’s strong play than anything Juolevi has done this season. 

“London has been rolling a balanced line up. Their 2 best defensemen, Juolevi and Victor Mete (MTL), have been split up. I don’t know if I’d call either pair the 1st or 2nd, they’re being rolled evenly at ES, while Juolevi gets his special teams minutes too.
His role has been cut a little due to how well Victor Mete has played. Both of them share time as the PP1 quarterback.” 

What’s struck me about Juolevi in the limited time I’ve seen him is his patience and calm demeanour with the puck. It doesn’t always come through unless you’re watching him in person, but Juolevi has a tremendous toolkit that hints he may have more to show offensively, a sentiment Pronman echoed.

I’d describe his performance as very good, but not dominant. He was my top ranked defenseman at the draft so know [that] I’m a believer, but he has another level then what he’s showed so far. 

That ought to be music to the ears of anyone hoping Juolevi can develop into a top-pairing defenceman for Vancouver. When you look at the numbers, it’s clear Juolevi’s performing at an acceptable level relative to where the Canucks selected him. If it is indeed the case that he’s capable of more, then expect his offensive totals to reflect that by season’s end.

  • Burnabybob

    Given Vancouver’s sudden abundance of quality defensive prospects, it’s possible that Tkachuk would have been a better pick. They could definitely use some help on offense, especially left wing.

    Juolevi looks good, though. It will be interesting to see how he performs at the World Juniors.

    As a side note, I just happened to read the box score yesterday of the game against Flint. Juolevi had two assists and was a plus 2.

  • TheRealPB

    Good article, even if the headline is a bit misleading. I don’t know how Canucks fans could actually stomach a true tear down rebuild if we freak out every time a prospect isn’t setting the world on fire for a ten game stretch. Just because Tkachuk (and Chychrun for that matter) has had a good start to the season doesn’t make Juolevi the wrong pick any more than anyone thinking that Pulujarvi or Dubois were the wrong picks at their spots because the latter is back in the minors (and not at more than a ppg pace) and the former cruising along. We might want to chill a bit about how well a recent draft pick is doing. Hey, maybe we can dig up all those pieces from three years ago about that third line defensive center everyone was convinced we’d traded Schneider for based on his draft+1 performance…

  • Bud Poile

    After a long Cup-winning run,NHL draft and NHL camp I am sure Olli is just beginning to hit his stride now.

    This kid will be a premiere NHL d-man for the Canucks,hopefully into his mid-late 30’s.

    Positionally sound,can be slotted into all situations,offensively capable and flies under the radar.

  • Hockey Warrior

    Greetings Hockey fans – I have been keeping a close EXPERT eye on this kid since the draft and as always, I’m telling it like it is… JUOLEVI is a draft BUST!

    1. We DESPERATELY need an ELITE offensive defenceman ala BRENT BURNS, KRIS LETANG or ERIK KARLSSON,,, guys, as his juniour numbers and performances already PROVE, Oli ISN’T IT.

    2. By the time this kid is ready for the show (in two years minimum), BENNING and WILLIE D will be gone. That means a whole new setup/philosophy is in place, hopefully under DALE TALLON… Juolevi WON’T be in his plans i can assure you. Read on to see WHY

    3. There is NO PATIENCE in today’s pro sports to wait on ifs, whens and maybes. It’s an INSTANT results game now and that’s why TKACHUK is DELIVERING in the NHL NOW and why it was a MASSIVE mistake to pass on this classy kid who ticks all the boxes NOW, for the underwhelming Finn.

    Guys, need I remind you about another so called ‘elite’ defenceman who was drafted THIRD OVERALL in 2010 by Dale Tallon’s Panthers over the likes of CAM FOWLER, RYAN JOHANSEN, VLADI TARASENKO and EVGENY KUZNETSOV… His name was ERIK GUDBRANSON!

    OUCH…

  • Bud Poile

    Don’t pay attention to arrogant,impatient, hateful, so-called expert fans that have no eye for defensive talent and far less class.

    Benning was an NHL first round, # 6 overall d-man,he knows exactly what Olli brings to the team.

  • Condorman

    Hmmmm….not sure exactly what to think. Lidstrom was never that stand out elite offensive D at the junior level either.
    More concerning to me is Benning’s penchant for “bread and butter” players. Most, if not all of his picks have been exactly that….bread and butter. Where is the elite talent needed and wanted, even if it’s an occassional flyer.
    It looks as though Boeser may be a good shooter and goal scorer but he’s definitely not a creator and puck carrier.

  • Locust

    Well if there is anywhere that can make Shania Twain a 4 – it is Canucks Army.

    Olli is a quality player and equally importantly he is supposed to be a quality person. He has been drafted and will make the team next season – this season is like going to the in-laws every night for dinner. You just want it to be over.

    R-E-L-A-X

    He will be fine.

    Sure hope he doesn’t read this “fan” site though…..

    • I am Ted

      Yeah, I don’t see him reading a site run by 20 year old kids with minimal hockey knowledge.

      You have no idea what a player will be at this point. Give the guy a few years at the very least. People keep whining about Tkachuk…he could regress next year or later like many (just like Strome, Duclair etc). The article isn’t bad but there’s no need to make it as dramatic as you do.

    • Jackson McDonald

      I’m not really sure what your problem is. Olli is going to be a great player, and picking him 5th overall is totally defensible. You’re acting like I raked the kid over the coals and then parroting my own points back at me. Did you read the article? Because it’s pretty clear that R-E-L-A-X is E-X-A-C-T-L-Y what I’m saying.

  • Fred-65

    Vcr Scouting failed them not only once when they didn’t recognize Huttons abilities they repeated the very next year with Stecher. Hutton was sent home from Utica because they felt he couldn’t help the Comets, Stecher for reason unknown to most had never shown enough to satisfy management that he was NHL ready. Here’s the question who’s making these decisions ? I understand the argument they’re all assets but heck currently management are telling all and sundry “man we sure need a scoring winger ” …. Really there’s a shock. So how come you didn’t draft one like Tkachuk Some times the simple answer is the right answer LOL

    ps will Juolevi be that much better than either Hutton of Stecher and who can recognize that ability …not the Vcr scouts for sure

    • TheRealPB

      So your argument is that Vancouver’s scouting staff (which has all the say in the world over lineup decisions for our AHL farm team) mishandled Hutton when he joined the team after the end of his NCAA season in Maine when he joined the Utica Comet’s finals-bound lineup which had a clearly established defensive group? And that they continued to mishandle him when he made the NHL squad the next year? And this was somehow paralleled by Stetcher being signed in the off-season after his final year at North Dakota, being a late cut at the NHL camp and then getting two of the first callups after injuries and sticking with the big club?

      Right…

  • wojohowitz

    I don`t dispute that Juolevi will be a NHL defenceman but as of right now any one of the half dozen D-men picked in the first round may actually be the guy the Canucks really hoped for. It really is a crapshoot when you consider that players like Weber and Keith were not first round picks.

    As for Juolevi I questioned his physical presence a couple of weeks ago when I noticed he only had 4 minor penalties in 19 games but now he is up to 16 penalty minutes in 25 games and he took a slashing penalty on Sunday which I like to see. Also as an eighteen year old he is carrying a burden of expectations that he may have to get use to. It just means he could be a Norris trophy candidate in 7 or 8 years.

    As of right now I`d say he might turn out to be a Tanev with hands and that`s a good thing.

    • andyg

      Juolevi is still growing. When he came to camp Benning made the point that he was now 6’3″.
      Very young and will most certainly need to fill out.
      A lack of penalties is maybe just that he is smart enough to not take them. He will never be the big mean tough guy. It is not his game.

  • Buula

    Happy to read this article. I was quietly wondering to myself about this.

    As far us having more depth with him, it means we can trade someone when he pushes for a spot and get a good player / pick.

    3 years from now well be happy Canucks fans

  • Whatthe...

    My feeling about Juolevi is that he is going to be a better NHLer than Jr player. His IQ, passing, etc makes other players better and that impact will grow when paired with better players and more structure.

    I feel much the same about Brisebois who I think will be one of the big steals from the 2015 draft.

  • defenceman factory

    Thanks for this article. Hard to know all the context to go with the stats on a player in the OHL.

    Juolevi is a confident and motivated young player. He will be near impossible to keep off the roster next year.