How Olli Juolevi caught the coaching staff’s attention and moved up the Canucks’ depth chart

Coming into the second training camp of the 2019-20 season, Olli Juolevi was a player many pegged as being somebody who would benefit from the extra practice, but likely wouldn’t be asked to travel with the team to the Edmonton bubble as part of their playoff roster, similar to Kole Lind.

Through the first few days of training camp, those thoughts seemed to be proven correct. He didn’t skate with the main group for the first few days, and when he did get his shot, he just didn’t stand out. In the first scrimmage, he wasn’t very good at either end of the ice, and in the second scrimmage, he nearly cost his team two goals in the first ten minutes of the game.

But something changed in that second scrimmage. That second scrimmage was where Juolevi turned a corner, charged full steam ahead, and never looked back once for the remainder of camp.

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Juolevi getting flat out beat was a common occurrence in the AHL this year as his skating just didn’t look right for most of the year. This can almost be expected coming back from a knee injury, but his skating — which is typically a strength of his — looked far from NHL ready at times this year.

Take this play for example:

If someone tried that on Juolevi during training camp, they likely wouldn’t have had any luck in pulling it off. Juolevi’s confidence was through the roof and he made numerous aggressive plays that paid off. When people talk about Juolevi’s high-level hockey IQ, that’s what they’re talking about — his ability to read plays before they even develop to give himself the best chance to disrupt them.

His defensive stick and ability to get good positioning on attacking forwards were on point, and on a play like the one shown above, training camp Juolevi would have the ability and confidence to angle this forward into the boards and turn the play the other way for his team.

Training camp Juolevi and just recovered from injury Juolevi seem to be two entirely different players. I suppose you could also call training camp Juolevi “well-rested and fully healthy Juolevi” as well.

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The big thing that stuck out was how good Juolevi’s footwork looked at both ends of the ice. This was noticed by both observers and his teammates, as Troy Stecher, who was paired with Juolevi during the last scrimmage of training camp noted that Juolevi’s footwork looked “a lot better” than the last time he had seen him play.

On the offensive side, Juolevi showed an ability to get quick shots through traffic and most importantly, past the first defender closing in on him at the point.

Juolevi’s play at camp came almost as a surprise to many, including head coach Travis Green:

“He’s slowly getting better everyday I think…He’s surprised me in a good way. I think he’s been pretty solid. We’re trying to work with him a bit more on the side than other guys. Trying to get him to push himself to get better everyday.”

At worst, the summer training camp would serve as a low-pressure situation for Juolevi to get some extra reps in and show the coaching staff what he’s all about ahead of next season where he’ll be competing against Jack Rathbone, among others, for a roster spot.

The best outcome from this camp was Juolevi finding a way to pass players like Guillaume Brisebois and Ashton Sautner — two players with NHL experience, and who many assumed at least one of would be travelling to Edmonton — on the depth chart.

And that’s exactly what he did.

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The Canucks coaching staff elected to reward Juolevi for his solid play at camp and bring him to Edmonton on the main postseason roster. He got a chance to play as the seventh defenceman on Wednesday night in the exhibition against the Jets, and much like the opportunity he was given at training camp, Juolevi ran with it.

Now, he didn’t blow the socks off anyone by any means, and in no way am I suggesting that he’s worked himself into a bottom pairing role for game one against the Wild. But — now bear with me — the little things Juolevi did were a sight for sore eyes.

He was calm under pressure, confident with and without the puck, and most of all, his skating looked fine. He came into camp as someone relatively below the radar, jumped ahead of two players on the depth chart, and earned himself a spot on the playoff roster. Although he played just seven minutes, Green was happy with Juolevi’s performance against the Jets:

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“I was really happy with Olli. Thought he did some really good things. Settled in, played well.”

-Travis Green

With Jordie Benn still awaiting the birth of his child, and the four-day quarantine requirement that looms upon his return to Canada, Juolevi is almost certainly the first man in should an injury occur to a left-handed blueliner during the play in series against the Wild.

Even if he doesn’t get any game action, that’s okay. Juolevi showed up in a big way at this camp and it can only benefit him. He’s now on the radars of both management and coaches and will have another offseason to focus on training and getting even better ahead of the 2020-21 season.

Juolevi represents a cost-controlled asset and if the Canucks can compile a competent left side blue line consisting of Quinn Hughes, Jack Rathbone, and Olli Juolevi once Alex Edler departs, they’ll be more than happy.