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Photo Credit: Β© Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Olli Juolevi files part 2: The Positives

What is coming is better than what is gone. This is the vibe that Olli Juolevi will want moving forward.

Yesterday we looked at the negatives of Olli Juolevi’s game. His skating and quick decision making were at the forefront of the negatives but today we will take a look at some of the things that Juolevi does on the ice that should get Canucks fans excited.

The Utica Comets were pretty horrible at controlling the shot share this season. With control of only 47.35% of attempted shots. They were even outshot at a higher rate than the Vancouver Canucks were with their control of 48.43% of attempted shots.

Through the tough shot differential, the Comets were able to maintain control of 47.7% of attempted shots with Olli Juolevi on the ice. It’s not much higher than the team’s total but Juolevi was used in a lot of defensive zone faceoffs as the Rafferty pairing would be thrown out for a lot of offensive zone starts. For the season, Juolevi’s Corsi percentage was just 0.1% lower than Brogan Rafferty, who had a tremendous season down on the farm. Juolevi’s most consistent defence partner was Ashton Sautner, whose CF% was 45.7 this year.

At the beginning of the season, the Comets as a team were running extremely hot. Juolevi was a big part of that, and as a result, his control of the Corsi share was brilliant. He would then go on to miss eight games due to hip-soreness. Though his skating improved as the season went on, the team’s ability to possess the puck and get shot attempts off did fall.

Here’s an excellent graph by Cody Severtson of PITB that depicts what Juolevi did on a nightly basis for controlling shot attempts.

As you can see above, it was a tough run of games for Juolevi after returning from hip-soreness. The Comets went 4-3-1 over those 8 games.

On the topic of controlling shot share, one of the things to like in Juolevi’s game is his stretch passes. This is the quickest way to get the puck from your own zone to the attacking zone and when Juolevi flicks his wrists the right way he can spring a streaking forward in on a fast break in the blink of an eye.

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Here is Juolevi making an outstanding bank pass to send in Kole Lind on a partial break that leads to a scoring chance.

Defencemen who make plays like this can’t do it on their own. They need an intelligent forward to recognize the opportunity and Lind is the type of player that can make that happen. The problem is there are a lot of players in the Comets’ bottom six that wouldn’t be able to recognize or create this type of scoring chance.

Here’s another clip of a good Juolevi stretch pass, this time to Sven Baertschi.

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As I mentioned in the negatives article, Juolevi seems to need just an extra second to process the play before he makes a pass. This one second isn’t there at the NHL, so this is one of — if not the main improvement I am looking for from Juolevi next season. He needs to consistently make these passes instead of throwing blind passes up the ice like we talked about in the negatives article.

Here’s another Juolevi to Lind play. This is another example that displays Juolevi’s ability to use the extra second given to him to process the play in order to make great passes that lead to scoring chances.

His playmaking ability is one of his strengths — not his best skill — but it is certainly something to be excited about. This season he had 23 assists; 11 of those assists were primary and 12 were secondary. So he directly set up a goal on 47.8% of his assists.

Five of those 11 primary assists came on the powerplay. A majority of them as a part of the second powerplay unit.

He started the season on the first powerplay unit but Brogan Rafferty would eventually take that job away from him. The demotion for Juolevi wasn’t due to him underperforming as much as it was about Rafferty exceeding all expectations this year. Aside from some early blunders defending on the powerplay, Juolevi got more comfortable and was solid on the second powerplay unit with a weaker group of players around him.

It is interesting to note that both Juolevi and Rafferty had five primary assists on the powerplay this past season, despite Rafferty playing much more with the first unit. The big difference in powerplay points comes with Rafferty having 11 secondary assists compared to Juolevi’s five. Juolevi had no powerplay goals compared to Rafferty’s one on the season.

Now I want to talk about the most impressive part of Olli Juolevi’s game.

His penalty killing.

I’ve talked about the quick decision making being a concern of mine with Juolevi. With structured defending that is correlated with penalty killing, Juolevi’s game flourishes.

He is excellent at shutting down options for the opposing puck possessor. A lot was said about Juolevi’s high hockey IQ leading up to his draft day, and without watching him play a lot you might just assume that people are talking about him making good passes and knowing when to take risks.

That’s not it. The high hockey IQ that was stamped from scouts hails from his structured defending. He understands passing lanes and is able to block them with quick lateral movements, it almost seems that he is able to anticipate the next pass as well. Similar to how we see Elias Pettersson do on the offensive side of things.

Confirmed: Juolevi is Pettersson.

I spoke with Utica Comets play by play broadcaster Joe Roberts, who has called every single one of Juolevi’s games with the Comets. I wanted to begin by asking him what he thought Juolevi’s best single skill was and we agreed that it was his ability on the penalty kill.

I am so surprised on a nightly basis how good he is at positioning his body and his stick in the right places when the team is settled into the defensive zone. He is such a valuable asset on the penalty kill, he logged a lot of time and swallowed a lot of pucks. I think that people need to take a look at these moments when they realize what his potential is as an NHL defenseman because he can really help slam the door.

I didn’t want to clip every little time that he got in a lane or cleared a puck but this shift is a great example of what Joe is talking about with Juolevi swallowing a lot of pucks.

If there is time for Juolevi to get set up in the defensive zone, he is first-rate at intercepting passes and had countless clears on the penalty kill. Even though Juolevi has battled injuries throughout his career, he is not afraid to get in the way of shots. He ranks first on the Comets team for shots blocked on the penalty kill this season.

The thing to like about his defending ability is how good he is at disrupting passing lanes. As we talked about in part one, he needs to be able to defend better on the rush. That will require him to be healthy throughout a full AHL season. If he is able to develop that skill, he does show potential to be a solid defensive defenceman who can round out a top four or a guy who sits on a third pairing and kills penalties like they are going out of style.

We need to remember that Olli Juolevi only just turned 22 last month. He went back to Finland after being draft and injuries have really hurt his development since coming over to North America. Not every prospect is going to jump in and have a rookie season like Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser or Elias Pettersson.

Jake Virtanen took a while to figure a lot of things out and is still working at being a consistent contributor at the NHL level. Some prospects need more time and Juolevi’s play style fits the exact criteria of why defencemen take more time to develop.

He has certain skills that can translate to the NHL but really just needs to round out the rest of his game so that it can be acceptable against NHL competition.

This is going to be accomplished through some more seasoning in the AHL. He must get better at making quicker decisions, he must improve at defending the rush and most importantly he MUST stay healthy for these things to improve.

Next year is going to be do or die for Juolevi.

After next season, Juolevi is a restricted free agent. Will he be able to remain healthy and make a case to get NHL games next year?

With Quinn Hughes, Alex Edler and Jordie Benn on the books for another year it will likely take an injury for Juolevi to finally suit up for the Canucks. The extended break due to COVID-19 has to benefit Juolevi but with rumours swirling around that the AHL season could take a serious hit next year and possibly not even play games; it makes me nervous because prospects like Juolevi, Lind and Jonah Gadjovich would all be missing out on a chance to work their way up to being in the conversation for a call-up next year.

If Juolevi has to go back to Finland to play next year it will be another hit in a long list of unfortunate events during his journey to the NHL.

This season finally showed some real upside to Juolevi’s game — he vastly improved as he got healthier and the season progressed. I asked Joe Roberts about the improvement and why the AHL is a necessary step for a player in Juolevi’s shoes.

I saw an improvement in every part of his game as the season went on, without a doubt, and I think that that’s the main goal of somebody who’s playing in Utica. To get better, because obviously the end goal is to not play in Utica. They want to get to the National Hockey League and if you’re not getting better every single day as the season progresses in noticeable fashion then how are you going to get up there? I think a big part of it was him finally getting healthy.

The end goal is to get to the NHL.

The problem is that Juolevi’s road there has been tougher than driving my Chevrolet Silverado through downtown Vancouver.

Thanks for reading this two-part series as we looked at the positives and negatives of one of the most discussed Canucks’ prospects. A huge shoutout to Cody Severtson of Pass It to Bulis for his tracking of Juolevi and the Utica Comets.