Olli Juolevi checks in as the second best Vancouver Canucks’ prospect. A fitting distinction for the Finnish defenceman, selected with the Canucks fifth overall selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Given Juolevi’s lofty pedigree, there’s no doubting his status as the best defensive prospect in the Canucks organization. The Canucks have long desired a number one defenceman, capable of eating minutes and playing in all situations. Ideally, Juolevi is their guy.
Time will tell if the Canucks took the right defenceman in the 2016 draft, but there is still high hopes that the smart, smooth skating, and positionally sound Juolevi will be the anchor for the Canucks back-end for years to come.
Before I jump in, let’s quickly review the criteria for a qualifying prospect:
- The player must be 25 years or younger, and
- The player must be eligible for the Calder Trophy next season.
As a result, players that are considered to be “graduated” to the NHL (Brendan Gaunce, Nikita Tryamkin, Jake Virtanen, Anton Rodin) are not eligible.
A competitive spark-plug, Olli Juolevi is a complete, all-around defenceman who 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. – Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects (2016)
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. – Corey Pronman (Prior to 2016 NHL Entry Draft)
Selected with the 5th overall pick in 2016, the Canucks decided to select Finnish defenceman Olli Juolevi. Regularly regarded for his smooth-skating and heady play, Juolevi is without a doubt the Canucks top defensive prospect. Which should be expected given that he was the highest selected draft pick for the Canucks since Daniel and Henrik Sedin. There has been some concern about Juolevi because he hasn’t taken that next step, but it’s unwarranted. Juolevi hasn’t busted down the doors in his D+1 season, but he has followed the proper development curve.
The WJHC pGPS projection on the right is based on his 2017 performance.
When we use pGPS, based on his 2015/16 production in his draft year, 41% of Juolevi’s comparable players went onto becoming NHL regulars. That number has slightly dropped to 37%, but that 4% is a small fluctuation based on his production that could easily increase with a hot streak. Obviously, any decrease in the success rate is something to be aware of, but given the % that Juolevi is still at, it isn’t of great concern when the context is applied.
That context is based on his QoT and his deployment. Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk and Christian Dvorak ripped apart the OHL last season. While this season, his most common forward teammates on the ice are Cliff Pu (43.7%), JJ Piccinich (41.2%), and Robert Thomas (34.5%), who are all having good seasons but not at the same level as the trio above.
Also, Juolevi is playing on the ‘second pairing’ with Evan Bouchard, because Victor Mete and Juolevi are both left-handed shots and thus play the left side. This is resulting in Mete being on the first pairing for the Knights, while Juolevi is on the ‘second’. Juolevi’s eTOI is actually a shade under 25 minutes per game, so saying that he is a second pairing defenceman isn’t exactly fair. He sees regular ice-time on the power-play and penalty kill.
Jackson McDonald covered this topic in December, and was correct in his conclusion that although the second pairing ice time is eye-brow raising, it isn’t something to be concerned about as it is easily explained and justified due to handedness of Mete and Juolevi, and the want to balance the lineup for the OHL Championship contending Knights.
It is worth noting that the Knights have since acquired New York Islanders prospect Mitchell Vande Sompel, who is also left-handed.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) October 8, 2016
Some of the concern is based on how well Tkachuk is doing in Calgary this year. The Canucks had the choice between the two and ultimately went with Juolevi as they believed he had the potential to be a first pairing defenceman in the long run. It isn’t fair to compare the two players due to the recency of the draft, their age, and the difference in position. But the comparison is there.
Another angle that brings more light to the concern is that Juolevi just isn’t a flashy prospect or player. He isn’t going to jump out of the screen and make those plays that will be on the highlight reel. He is just a smart player, who makes the right play more often than not while making it look effortless. Not comparing the two players, but Noah Hanifin in Carolina is of the similar ilk. A high draft pick who just goes about his business.
When you look at the comparable players to Juolevi, it just reassures that thought process. It’s important to remember that pGPS are based on their PPG rates.
The majority went on to becoming second pairing defenceman in the NHL:
Based on the data above, we can expect that if Olli Juolevi makes it to the NHL, he will likely project to be a really good second pairing defenceman or a top pairing defenceman without the high-end offensive output. Combining the eye-test to this, we can reasonably conclude that Juolevi will probably become an NHL regular due to his ability to read and react to the play, and his knack for making the right decisions.
His hockey sense is what sets him apart, and what will help him be successful.
At this moment, Juolevi is 16th in OHL defenceman scoring. He has increased his PPG rate from 0.74 PPG last season to 0.85 PPG.
He is just coming out of a bit of hot streak – where his five games rolling PPG was hovering around 1.5 PPG; it’s fallen in the last few games. We can see that Juolevi has remained relatively steady with his PPG rate throughout the season, which is encouraging to see that there aren’t large periods without points, never going more than two games between posting a point.
Ideally – Juolevi needs to shoot more. Last year, his shot’s per game was 2.28 S/PG, and that has fallen to 1.97 S/PG this season. This has ballooned his SH% from 6.9% in 2015/16 to 11.9% this year, which is 8th highest amongst defenceman. Even if he saw some regression in that shooting percentage, more shots would mean more goals. He is set to beat his goal total from last year of 9 (he currently has 8). Last season, Juolevi had 4 PP goals, this year, he has zero.
Lastly, 17 of his points are primary points (eight goals, and nine first assists), with 12 being secondary assists. Thus 41.3% of his points are secondary assists.
All of that information above sheds a slightly negative light on the Finnish defenceman, but it’s imperative to remember that development of hockey players is never completely linear. Juolevi has been asked to work on all facets of his game and be a leader in London (and Team Finland at the WJHC), while there was serious turnover on the rest of the roster.
Some of his pGPS Cohorts at the time of his selection included Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, Zach Bogosian, and Lukas Krajicek. Since Juolevi hasn’t taken that ‘next step’, the more successful matches have fallen off.
I think it’s fair to say that given all this information – Juolevi more closely resembles the player at the time of his selection, then what he currently projects. As he has been asked to handle a different workload, instead of just putting up points.
At Young Stars in Penticton, there was no doubt that Juolevi was the most skilled amongst the defensive prospects there. On multiple occasions, he would make the right play, and the receiving player would make a mistake. Furthermore, he would make hard and crisp cross-ice passes that were tape to tape that the player of receipt would flub. If he were playing with a more skilled group of players, those plays would have a higher chance of working out, and it would’ve been something to rave about.
Juolevi is rightfully the Canucks second best prospect right now – he has the makings to be a part of this team for an extended period. The numbers above are just part of the analysis of the player, and it’s fair to say that the figures aren’t giving the full picture. (which is another prime example of why numbers, eye-test and context should be combined and work together)
The Canucks think that Juolevi can be a top pairing defenceman because of his very high hockey IQ, and that comes across clearly when you watch him.
Given that Juolevi is not on loan from Finland, he is bound by the NHL/CHL agreement – thus it’s the NHL or CHL next year. I would expect that unless there are some drastic changes to the back-end this summer, Juolevi will start his NHL career next season.