Photo Credit: NHL.com

By the Numbers: Olli Juolevi doing good things in Utica but patience is required

It’s been over two years since Jim Benning announced Olli Juolevi as the Vancouver Canucks first round pick, fifth overall at the 2016 entry draft. If you’re having a hard time gauging his development, that’s understandable as he’s only played a handful of games in North America since the completion of the London Knights season in 2017. The following season, the Canucks opted to loan Juolevi to TPS in Finland where he could further develop under the watchful eye of former Canuck, Sami Salo.

Loaning the young defender to TPS, Finland appears to have been the best decision for Juolevi’s development as he’s now quickly adapting during his first season of professional hockey in Utica.

I’ve compiled data and video on Juolevi during his dominating performance at last year’s World Junior Tournament, where he outplayed fellow Finnish first round picks Jusso Valimaki, Miro Heiskanen and Urho Vaakenainen, all who have played NHL games this season for their respected clubs. I’ve done the same during his first 8 of 10 games with Utica, where Juolevi is showing signs that he may be ready for an audition with the Canucks as early as this season.

There are plenty of positives you see while watching Juolevi play, including his poise, vision, skating ability. These attributes are what make him an effective three-zone defender as we’ll observe in my first clips. They focus on the many ways Juolevi can move the puck out of the defensive zone and put his team in a prime position to create offense through the neutral zone.

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Zone Exits

Following the face-off victory, Juolevi picks up the puck on his backhand and fakes banking the puck off the boards which draws in the F1. This creates a passing lane for a hard stretch pass to Jonathan Dahlen for the controlled exit which leads to the controlled entry. An efficient dissection of a passive fore-check

Here’s a fine display of the poise and vision of the 20-year old blue-liner. With pressure on his left and right, one quick backhand pass towards the face-off dot hits Adam Gaudette in stride for the controlled exit – made all too easy because of an excellent read by Juolevi. In less than a second, Juolevi turns a tough situation on his backhand behind his goal-line into an offensive opportunity off the rush for the Comets.

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I’ve tracked thousands of zone exits over the past few years, and this chip-shot over the heads of two fore-checkers is one of my favourites. This play personifies Juolevi’s blink-or-you’ll-miss-it-type plays that he makes consistently.

This play oozes shades of Chris Tanev – he draws in a fore-checker which creates space and options for his defensive partner.

At the beginning of the season, I was concerned about Juolevi’s ability to skate himself out of trouble in the defensive zone. I admit, the thought is still there, but the worry is slowly fading.

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So now we have a good idea why Juolevi has been among the leaders of his respected teams in terms of controlled exit rates.

The charts below display Juolevi’s ability to move the puck efficiently.

As you can see, Juolevi currently sits third on the Comets with a controlled exit rate of 42.28%. This may seem underwhelming at first glance but keep in mind, this rate would be good enough to lead the Canucks. Furthermore, Chatfield is having a sensational start to the season in terms of moving the puck. Brisebois is a smaller sample and will likely regress. In my viewings, my observations don’t scream puck-moving defenceman as a near 50% rate would suggest.

In terms of puck-moving with Juolevi, there’s still room for improvement but when considering he’s only 10 games into his professional hockey career, I’m encouraged with his performance. As he continues to adjust to the timing and style of the AHL, his rate should continue to climb and remain a strength of his game.

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Offensive Contributions

Now we’ll transition into another strength of Juolevi’s game, his offensive contributions. His six points place him in the top five among rookie defenders in the AHL. Juolevi is currently doing his best offensive work on the power-play, where he’s produced five of his six points thus far. As the Point-Man/Quarterback on Utica’s first unit, he gets the most touches on the man advantage and it’s up to him to orchestrate scoring chances for the leagues seventh-ranked power-play.

Juolevi has been consistent with the man advantage, averaging nearly five primary shot contributions per game on the top unit. He’s also shown he can dominate on the man advantage, maxing out at 11 primary shot contributions in a single game.

When Juolevi is on top of his game, he’s creating time and space for his teammates in the offensive zone using his deception, vision, and play-making abilities. Additionally, his shot is a weapon which keeps penalty killing units honest.

Here’s a look at some of his work on the man advantage – one of many one-timers Juolevi has set up on the power-play for Reid Boucher.

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Zero panic in his game on the power-play! 10 games in and he’s got ice in his veins, I love the poise displayed before delivering this pass. The result leaves Reid Boucher with all the time and space he needs. Also, take a look at the positioning of his feet in these first two clips, they’re actually outside the zone which literally stretches out the offensive zone, creating additional space for passing lanes. When people mention his on-ice IQ, this is one of the things they’re referring to.

Stating that Juolevi is capable of setting up one-timers in an understatement, he puts the puck on a tee for some easy batting practice.

With two heavy hitters inverted in Vancouver, I eagerly anticipate Juolevi’s debut on the top unit.

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Juolevi dismantles the diamond penalty-killing formation. A quick pass provided Boucher all the time and space to walk in and pick a corner.

Juolevi freezes the triangle- formation, feathers the puck to his right and bang! This dish was Juolevi’s first career AHL assist.

Here’s a nice stretch pass at even strength from Juolevi who slices the neutral zone trap in two while creating a controlled entry and shooting opportunity for his teammate.

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It’s clear Juolevi is capable of contributing offensively with the man advantage. His performance so far, albeit a small sample size, has convinced me that Juolevi is currently the best option in the organization to quarterback the first power-play unit of the Canucks. Juolevi is mobile, creative, and has vision in the offensive zone, all traits I’m not sure you can say are still apart of the aging Alex Edler’s game.

This isn’t a knock on Edler, it’s more a compliment to Juolevi and what he brings in his offensive tool-box.

At even strength, Juolevi has contributed 33 primary shot contributions, which is enough to lead the team among defenders. This is enough that I’m not concerned about his ability to produce offensively. Juolevi knows how to read the offensive zone and where to be to support his forwards. He has a knack for getting the shot through traffic which provides plenty of opportunities for deflections.

Here’s another chart providing evidence that being involved offensively at even strength is nothing new to Juolevi, who finished the 2017-18 WJC with four points in five games.

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So, Juolevi is 10 games into his AHL career and is showing he can move the puck effectively. He’s contributing offensively and is a developing power-play specialist. Why isn’t he getting an audition in the NHL while the Canucks are banged up on the blue-line?

In short, Juolevi has plenty to work on the defensive side of the puck. it’s the defensive breakdowns in his side of the rink, and the misreads without the puck which are causing Juolevi all kinds of problems defensively at even strength.

Juolevi is a bright hockey mind, I’m sure this read was a one and done learning opportunity in the video room.

However, there are some positive signs in Juolevi’s defensive game which he can build upon: he’s breaking up 20% of rushes against him when targeted. Additionally, he’s limiting controlled entries against to a rate of under 34%, which is good enough for the team lead as we can see in the chart below.


Juolevi is still learning the North American game which includes new angles, routes, and reads to the puck – all at a speed which is faster than he’s seen before. I’ve heard plans which include Juolevi getting the call up sometime in December or January following a two-month stint of getting his feet wet in the AHL. This is a time-frame I don’t agree with for multiple reasons:

Primarily, he’s currently in the best situation when considering his development as a player. He’s on the top pairing in Utica with Jalen Chatfield, who is exactly the type of partner Juolevi needs to compliment his playing style. Juolevi needs a right-handed partner who is a plus skater, capable of making aggressive reads in the neutral zone and becoming a passing option in the defensive zone. This is exactly what Chatfield does as he himself is becoming an option for the Canucks when he’s back to full health, but that’s a different story.

Additionally, Juolevi is getting top power-play and penalty-killing experience in Utica. This is resulting in over 20 minutes per game and is critical for his development. Hypothetically, if you were to call up Juolevi today, I can’t envision a realistic situation where he’d be deployed for more than 12 minutes per game. If Green doesn’t trust Hutton or Pouliot, there’s no way he’ll trust Juolevi at even strength.

If it were up to me, I’d let Juolevi stew in Utica for the duration for the 2018/19 season, with a door open for a brief audition on the big club at the tail end of the season (if he exceeds expectations). Remain patient with Juolevi’s development, let him become a pillar of strength with the Comets by the end of the season.  With an injury free off-season devoted to nutrition and training, he’ll be ready to challenge for a regular spot in the Canucks lineup.


  • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

    Good article. Draft +4 ETA for rookie season….. well, he’s already been passed on the teams prospect depth chart, so realistically why not be as patient as possible with his development. Hopefully mgmt keeps stocking up on D next draft.

    • Beer Can Boyd

      Thats ok, he’s still only 20. The power play stuff is impressive, but I’m wondering if there will be room on the first unit for him with Hughes in the lineup. Could they use 2 LHD? Seems as though that might be a little awkward. Nice problem to have, though.

      • North Van Halen

        Hughes on PP1, Juolevi on PP2. I’m down with that.

        Those one-timer feeds are better than anyone we are currently seeing at the NHL level. Having 2 of these guys for our power play after having none for the last 5 years is quite encouraging.

        • I’d rather see Hughes and Juolevi on the point. Hughes and Pettersson would QB the power play depending on which side of the zone the puck is in. Moving Horvat to Baertschi’s spot eliminates any backdoor plays from behind the goal line but with Hughes on the opposite side of the ice, it opens up plays initiating from the opposite side of the ice (e.g. one-timers from Boeser and Juolevi or a muffin from Hughes).

  • truthseeker

    Great article. Thanks for the update. It’s nice to get a look at how he’s coming along.

    Some of those moves are just amazing. Especially that one on the PP where he drew the defender and then passed behind him. Can’t recall seeing that move before even in the NHL. You’re right in saying that’s big time ice in veins.

    His development has been somewhat frustrating, but given how valuable he will be even just as a 2nd pairing D man, I suspect you’re right that he should probably remain there for the year unless it becomes painfully obvious he needs to be called up for a shot.

    • Gino über alles

      OK this is totally random memory input here but I remember that exact scenario with Lidstrom baiting Roenick at the line just exactly like that, had his feet outside and just handled it enough that Roenick was stuck in that awkward space between rushing the play and backing off. I’m not comparing him to Lidstrom but he does have shades of that calmness to his game, and that’s a good trait to have.

      I do see him leveling out as a really solid 2nd pair LHD as a more cerebral/less physical version of Edler. The only reason he won’t be a top pair LHD is because Hughes is going to be an electric presence back there, this team is shaping up incredibly well for the future.

      • truthseeker

        I’ll happily admit I don’t watch much outside of canuck games so I’m sure it’s happened before…lol.

        Yeah I’m totally fine with him as a number 3 or 4 D guy. Especially if it’s a situation where on many teams he’d be a number one or two if it weren’t for a superstar ahead of him. But that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Long way to go for any of that to happen.

      • bobdaley44

        Hughes will not be playing PK and matching up against top lines Juolevi will, not to mention having some PP skills himself. So maybe Hughes will be 2nd pair but top line PP. He may be an electric presence back there but can he contain NHL calibre forwards defensively?

        • truthseeker

          Time will tell. This whole idea of number 1 or 2 or 3 etc…D men is a bit arbitrary in itself. Sure a guy who plays the most minutes will be considered a “number 1” but what you’re getting at is more the reality in coach’s minds I think. You have guys that play certain roles and you use them in certain ways. It’s quite possible you could have your “number one” defensive D man who’s every bit as important as your “number one” offensive D man. So who’s the number one? In my opinion it really doesn’t matter.

          Just get as much talent as you can.

  • Tedchinook

    Nice write up. The kid just turned 20 in May and obviously has a bright future ahead of him as top 4 defenceman. The morons that keep claiming he’s a bust absolutely drive me up the walls.

  • Sandpaper

    I always get a kick out of people, that claim a player is a bust, or is better than another player, who has been picked higher, because the lower player is in the nhl first.
    Developing players is a very important part of getting a quality system in place, whether the player is being developed in junior, ahl, Europe or even in the nhl.
    Juolevi will be a fine defenseman for the Canucks, no worries here.

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      Yeah that is true. By that logic, the Canucks blew it by taking Boeser over Travis Konecny.

      Having said that, I don’t think Juolevi will end up being the best player available at his slot, in hindsight. However, he isn’t a bust and will probably be a pretty good player when he does arrive.

  • Ser Jaime Lannister

    Great article. Juolevi is coming along nicely, keep playing him in all situations (does he play PK in Utica?). Looking forward to seeing him play for the big club.

    Also excited with Chatfields progression i think this guy will be player for us in the future.

  • argoleas

    Good stuff, Darryl. Good case made for slow-walking his ascension to the NHL. I see every reason to go all Detroit Model on him, and even see him in only part-time in the NHL next season, especially if Edler returns for one more season and Hutton continues his rise.

    But in any case, seems like mgmt is following your advice here on not rushing him (so likely no callups before TDL), and some games after TDL seems appropriate. Looks like they are following with him the same approach they had for Breezer and Chatty last season – all season development in Utica to get ready for the playoffs.

    As always, it is not about when he makes the NHL, but what his ceiling is and whether he reaches it. He is the perfect example of a prospect, no matter the draft position, that needs to be brought up with all due care for development. And being a rebuilding team, Canucks can afford to be as patient as they need to be, unlike, say, the Oilers.

  • Killer Marmot

    Patience, schmatience, when’s he going to get called up? A few games in Vancouver won’t kill the kid, and will show him what part of his game needs the most work.

    • truthseeker

      That’s probably true. In most cases I’m not for babying prospects, but it’s pretty clear that OJ has struggled with parts of the game along with injury. If the improvement continues and he shows he deserves some games then yeah I’m totally with you on that. Bring him up and let’s have a look.

  • Finnish Flash

    Hilarious fluff piece that only mugs would buy into, and there are plenty on here already.

    The fact that Juolevi, a top five pick, is in the AHL and is amongst the leagues worst plus/minus there instead of in the bigs with the injury crippled Canucks speaks volumes about what an epic fail this pick was over proven NHL studs on D chosen below him in the same draft such as Sergachev, McAvoy and Chychrun. Even local kid Dante Fabbro looks a better bet tearing it up at BU and will be a beast for Smashville, who cannot wait to bring him into the fold from University on the best D in the league.

    Juolevi is what he is, a disaster pick who JB compared to NICK LIDSTROM and said after drafting him “He has the hockey sense to step in and play right away. He’s a complete defenceman.”… uh huh.

    • North Van Halen

      How many e-mail addresses and accounts do you have?!?! Do you think changing your name while saying the exact same thing with the exact same writing style fools anyone? Or do you get some kind of bizarre thrill from being the ultimate troll?!?

      • North Van Halen

        East Van Canuck, West Van Betty, Fort Mac FD, Finnish Flash, Chuck-ey, Canadian Paramedic, Corporate Goon, Tof-ino and of course PQW, guys can you help me out. How many did I miss!?!?

        • @ North Van Halen

          This nonsense has been going on far too long. I reflects poorly on CanucksArmy. You won’t find it on Oilersnation or Flamesnation, but here it’s ok. There was a time I thought CA moderator was powerless to do something, now however I just don’t think he cares, or won’t do the necessary work.
          Many comments get posted by one person using multiple accounts, made to look authentic. An outsider reads this drivel wondering what is wrong with this fan base. Insiders wonder how is this allowed to go on. It makes us look bad. It shines a bad light on the Vancouver Canucks, the fan base, and CanucksArmy

          • North Van Halen

            I’m starting to think one of the writers is the multi personality boy. We know they read since there is the occasional response but the inaction speaks volumes.

          • Locust

            Neither JD or Ryan has EVER flat out denied state sponsored trolls. Huge issues a few years ago when myself and a few others ‘caught’ them posting under the wrong alias – response – crickets.
            Page hits or integrity – time to pick one.

          • Ryan Biech

            This is the last comment that I can reply to… so I will here.

            Why would I deny ‘state-sponsored trolls’… I’ve said it before, if you think I have time to orchestrate something like that or have my own troll accounts, then I don’t know what to say.

            I generally skim the comment section on articles looking for people with legitimate questions or clarification. Again, time is limited.

            I’ve spoken with the people that handle the moderation to have the person in question banned via other means. It’s all I can do.

          • North Van Halen

            I guess thats the million dollar question, if there’s moderation, who is the moderator and what are they actually doing?
            And Ryan, you are not the only writer on here, I def. never thought it was you but I def. have my suspicions about a couple of your other writers that don’t rely on hard work and research for their articles to get page hits like you.

          • Dahlenfan

            Arty57 is his own thing.not this moron. Completely different writing styles. Arty drills the same drivel about his imaginary lineup over and over and lies constantly. This person is not the same or I wouldn’t even read ca comments
            I stopped reading province because of arty57

          • Canuck4Life20

            Same here. I removed Sportsnet from my bookmarks a couple years ago so I wouldn’t even be tempted to visit their site because of their refusal to do anything about that guy. Really have thought about doing the same here but there is still some good stuff about this site.

    • Fort McMurray FD

      Let’s not forget Matthew Tkachuk either – 110 points in just 156 games, a plus 14 with 178 PIM!! wow – definition of a power forward right there, and his brother Brady looks tasty too.

  • Kanuckhotep

    It may be a cliche but defenceman always take longer to develop than forwards, and goalies even longer. As far as can be seen mgmt is doing the right things with OJ. It seems reasonably clear the offence side is pretty good but it’s the defensive side of his game he has to prepare in order to play in the NHL. Why panic, Canucks fans, when he’s ready Juolevi will be put in the lineup and be okay.


    Nice article on Olli. I agree that a year spent in Utica is the best option and having a fresh start with Quinn Hughes in the D-corps is ideal. I think Olli and Quinn will be a great compliment to each other and bring the excitement EP and Brock have brought the last two years. The D is stale as some old coach would put it. No need to drop Olli into that!

  • It’s good to see that Juolevi is coming along. Can’t wait to see him.

    “But patience is required”
    That’s the problem with player development, it requires patience. Patience is hard to come by in a money driven business screaming for results, now.
    How many players have been ruined by not being developed properly? It’s an easy mistake to make.

    • Locust

      Would prefer if he stayed down until the last month of the season. With all these injuries let a couple of the more seasoned pro’s fill in – let OJ develop at his own pace, then reward him with a call up when the teams fate is sealed. The Sutter injury is going to hurt the Canucks more than anyone here realizes. History tells us that Tanev has a few more coming too. No need to throw him to the wolves. Patience is the key.

  • Puck Viking

    Let him continue to build his confidence and get back in to game shape from his back injury.

    Then try and get him up here about 20 games prior to the TDL so that he can take Edlers spot when we move him.

    It would also be good to get him more than a cup of coffee in the league so that we arent breaking in 2 rookie defense next season.

  • Tedchinook

    North Van Halen – Beer Can and I had an exchange about morons that call Juolevi a bust at age 20. Then the moron came out of the woodwork on cue. That was what my reference was all about.

  • Burnabybob

    The Canucks defensemen of the future look pretty good, at least on the left side. They need help on the right side, though. Hopefully Jalen Chatfield is a late bloomer who becomes the next Chris Tanev.

    If the Canucks do pick in middle or latter half of the first round in June, they might consider drafting Victor Soderstrom. He’s a right hander, a good puck mover, and ranked about 15-20 in most of the draft previews I have read.

  • tyhee

    The first chart compared Juolevi’s zone exits stats in the AHL to those of others in the NHL. There was no mention of them being in different leagues, the stats were shown as if you can compare NHL, AHL and college play. (3 of the others were NHL, one split time, the other was still in college.)

    The others were all drafted a year after Juolevi. One was a 2017-3rd rounder.

    Comparing Juolevi’s AHL numbers with those of players drafted a year later whose numbers were from the NHL without pointing out either distinction made it apparent this was intended to be a postive, fluff piece. Is there any reason to compare NHL stats with AHL stats and Juolevi with players drafted a year later, other than to fool fans into thinking the stats favour Juolevi more than is really the case?

    Later the author writes “he’s limiting controlled entries against to a rate of under 34%, which is good enough for the team lead as we can see in the chart below.” That is followed by a chart which appears to show Chatfield with the team lead, not Juolevi.

    Those tainted my view of the entire article to the extent I won’t be trusting any analysis by this author.

    • Defenceman Factory

      The lack of explanation of what exactly the author is comparing is confusing. Chatfield is clearly ahead of Juolevi at limiting controlled entries so don’t know what happened there.

      I made the assumption the author was comparing performance of Finnish Dmen at world junior tournaments but I don’t know if that is correct. I agree if performance at different ages, in different leagues is being compared it has to at least be acknowledged. Perhaps the author could provide an explanation.

  • sushilover

    Nice in depth article. Juolevi will be just fine in the NHL – if he can be a solid top 4 dman that’s great, even for when he was drafted. EP could be the best out of his draft class and Boeser easily could be a top 10 talent from his draft so you win some you lose some. As long as OJ plays long term, it’s a fine pick.

    • Locust

      Hmmmm….. I’d say Freud. He usually only responds when someone takes an issue with CA and his “style” is much different than before. You could almost tell it was JD because of the oozing smarm…… now, all I see is the teenage girl angst…
      Do I wi

  • Bud Poile

    Juolevi’s back surgery has him now just two months past his late August ramp up fitness period.
    He’s leading the Comets blue line by most metrics so it’s highly encouraging the left side will receive a massive upgrade with both he and Hughes.

    • Bud Poile

      Sportsnet 650
      Juolevi: My confidence is high and things have been going well here. Enjoying playing in all situations and getting the ice-time.

      When you have injuries you may think ‘Am I going to do things I used to do?’ but I’ve gotten back to 100%.

      • Fort McMurray FD

        So he’s back to 100 per cent and is a league worst minus 8 in the MINORS – great endorsement there Einstein… speaking of which…

        “and whatever high end player they pick up this draft – either Tkachuk or my preference Nylander”. – Bud Poile *NO mention of Juolevi*

        “Last year Marner, Tkachuk, Matthews, Nylander, Laine,etc. jumped straight from the draft table into making an impact at the highest level”. – Bud Poile *NO mention of Juolevi*

        ” The Canucks need players that can contribute out of the gate, particularly on D. Hopefully it’s a player that is close to NHL ready come September” – Dud *NO mention of Juolevi*

        Talk about throwing Juolevi under the bus! – not Sportsnet 650

        • Bud Poile

          It wasn’t my quote,troll.
          That was Juolevi’s words.
          Olli is going to continue to play the way he has and does throughout his entire NHL career and we’ll get to tell you to STFU on a daily basis.

        • gnam

          Ok fort Mac … Explain why we should care about him being a minus 8. Where is there any evidence that this stat is useful for evaluating an individual player over a small sample (or really any sample). Your “analysis” contradicts literally everything his coaches and those who’ve watched his game have said about him. I get that you think you’re smart, but your evidence suggests otherwise.

          • Bud Poile

            A hard on for young ‘Matty’ merging with his hatred for Benning and his sickness in demanding he’s special and elite is just another PQW illness played out for the last two years here on CA.

  • Holly Wood

    This site used be be a forum for Canuck fans to talk about their team . It has slid into a black hole where instead of talking hockey, the commenters insult one another or accuse each other of having multiple accounts. Makes me wonder if a group of high school kids have invaded this site and are sitting back laughing their heads off

  • Bud Poile

    “I’ve spoken with the people that handle the moderation to have the person in question banned via other means. It’s all I can do.” R.Biech
    There is very limited to no moderation,Ryan.
    CA readers advised you what to do when yiu asked but you have ignored the CA base.