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

Shift-by-shift thoughts on Olli Juolevi’s skating, neutral zone contests, and adjustment to NHL timing

Alright, let’s get this out of the way. Olli Juolevi played just 6 minutes in an exhibition game as the 7th defenceman in a highly sheltered role. His performance against the Winnipeg Jets in Vancouver’s one and only tune-up game before the real dance is a drastically small sample size and really should not hold much weight into projecting what Juolevi can be for the Canucks in the future. Like our Editor in Chief David Quadrelli wrote in his Juolevi article, he has not surpassed Fantenberg on the depth chart. He also most likely won’t be in the lineup for Game 1 against the Wild.

That being said, his first 6 minutes of competitive hockey in months should be seen as nothing but a positive for the often maligned defenceman. The fact that he dressed for this game is a large step in the right direction for him and he is one of the best Canucks stories since the NHL hit pause.

As I said, he barely played, and he was put in every situation possible to succeed with low quality of competition and heavy offensive zone usage. But I came away from this viewing pleasantly surprised and would go so far as saying I’m comfortable having him slot into the lineup should injuries occur. I would have thought you were partying with Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa had you told me I’d be feeling this way about Juolevi when training camp opened.

Small sample size and all, there were a couple of things that I was looking out for when watching Juolevi against the Jets. I wanted to monitor how his skating looked, how confident he would be contesting the puck in the neutral zone, and how his timing would be at a faster pace than what he is normally used to in the AHL.

Because I was taking down notes, I thought it would be interesting to give the readers of CanucksArmy a peek behind the curtains at my thought process while watching the game. These are my thoughts on every Juolevi shift with some changes made for the sake of clarity and entertainment of this article. Also, let me know if this type of content is something you would like to read more of.

Olli Juolevi vs WPG – Game Notes – 200729

1st Period

18:00 (Times all written as seen on game clock in video)- Good anticipation to step up and challenge the pass at the red line forcing a dump in. As the play works it’s way into Vancouver’s zone, I don’t love the route he takes to support the puck battle in the opposite corner. Rather than staying on top of the puck (ie. keeping himself between the puck and his own goal) Juolevi elects to skate behind the goal line leaving the net-front unguarded. It’s a small detail and I can understand why he did so. He’s supporting his partner in case of a won 50/50 puck and is available for a reverse play but considering it’s a 50/50 play, a Jets player could have just as easily won the puck and quickly attacked the crease. Just altering his route to staying higher and positioning himself at the net front and then reacting to the 50/50 puck battle would eliminate potential defensive mishaps. He’s mobile enough to drop down below the goal line and provide a reverse option, should his partner win the puck.   

17:40 – Jets win the puck and send it to the point, Juolevi engages with his man and takes away his stick eliminating any redirection plays. Ends his shift with an easy zone entry and shot on net. 

14:04 – Holds puck in at the blueline with his quick feet. Good risk assessment here, Jets player isn’t in a position to beat Juolevi to the puck and there is also Gaudette in position to cover for Juolevi should the puck bounce over his stick. 

13:47 – Puck bounces over his stick in d-to-d pass but he recovers and is calm under pressure with Jet forechecker pressing down. Quick touch pass to his partner before Laine closes in. Gets puck right back and then sends the puck up ice with a solid lead pass for a zone entry assist. Great pass hitting Roussel in stride.

10:38 – Again steps up at redline to prevent neutral zone carry. Easy decision to make with Sutter backchecking hard and providing support. Right before his shift ends (~10:22), we can see Juolevi activate and jump up in the neutral zone to serve as a passing option for MacEwen. Even though MacEwen elects to dump the puck in, I like those instincts. He saw an open runway and made the option available. 

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3:08 – Again we see Juolevi be confident and aggressive in the neutral zone attempting to thwart the Jets neutral zone play. However, he doesn’t correctly calculate the play and Laine is able to move the puck forward while Juolevi is caught flat-footed and in no man’s land. Timing is something that I was especially looking out for from him this game and this is an example. One of the biggest things prospects need to adjust to when moving up in competition is adapting to the pace of play. Possibly in the AHL where a player in Laine’s shoes is half a second slower to react to this play, Juolevi would have disrupted this play but this is Patrik Laine we are dealing with. Suddenly, that extra half-second is gone. Small adjustments in timing when to step up and correctly positioning yourself to anticipate plays like this are what will allow Juolevi to have a more prominent role in the future. 

3:00 – Unpressured, Juolevi calmly skates the puck up towards his half-wall and sends a pass up and out of the defensive zone. 

2nd Period

18:01 – Good feet and read to get a jump on the play and once again challenge the puck at the red line. Skating/knee doesn’t seem like a hindrance at all so far. This is encouraging.

17:47 – Pretty aggressive pinch at the offensive blueline. He’s stationary against a player already in stride but it’s a decent risk assessment. For starters, there are three Canucks behind Juolevi all in position to manage the oncoming Jets attack. Secondly, #7 for the Jets is still gaining control of the puck so if Juolevi can time it correctly, he has a good chance at denying a controlled exit (Low fear of a chip and chase since the Canucks have the manpower in the neutral zone to handle it). I see this play as a positive sign in Juolevi’s confidence, the worst thing that could have happened would be for him to be indecisive and therefore caught in no man’s land. He has the confidence to challenge the puck carrier and makes sure that his man won’t get passed him which is the most important outcome on a pinch. Either take the man or the puck, but both CANNOT get behind you.  

14:57 – Supporting a footrace between Beagle and a Jets forward. I actually don’t mind him being passive here. He identifies that Beagle will be first onto the puck but is in a disadvantageous position with the Jet forechecker right on his heels. The most likely outcome is that Beagle gets pinned to the wall so there is no point also getting stuck in the puck battle. By hanging back for a split second, he is able to react to the puck’s interaction along the wall and quickly gets a stick on the puck knocking it towards Tanev who just barely misses it.

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Relating back to the shift in the first period when Juolevi didn’t stay on top of the puck, this time he is staying on top of it and making a high percentage play. Niklas Lidstrom actually co-authored a scientific study on probabilities and game intelligence in sport and one of the things he talked about was how he played 50/50 puck battles in his own zone. Rarely would he try and be the first player to the puck unless it was guaranteed that he would come away with it. Instead, he would stay on top of the puck and let the forechecker play it first. It was still a 50/50 puck battle but because he would be the second player on the puck, that meant if he lost the battle, he was still between the puck and his own net. Really interesting stuff for anyone that is curious about what made Lidstrom tick

14:50 – Gets pushed around in front of the net but gets up and is back in the play immediately. 

11:50 – Shot attempt on the net from the left point and then another pinch. He has a bit of trouble corralling the puck but sticks with it and makes sure that the Jets aren’t able to gain possession in the neutral zone. 

7:25 – This time he gets caught in no man’s land on his pinch. It’s a bit unlucky as he was trying to pressure the Jets winger on the half-wall but because the puck gets past the winger, Juolevi isn’t in the position to cleanly gather the puck and it bounces off of his skate. A good look at his stride as he scrambles to recover on the fast break. The camera cuts to an ISO on Andrew Copp but we can estimate Juolevi’s speed based on the before and after. Juolevi is at the offensive blue line when Adam Gaudette is two or three strides behind as Copp is bursting through the neutral zone. When the broadcast cuts back to the wide-angle camera, Gaudette has caught up and passed Juolevi. Lowry has completely blown ahead of both of them. Juolevi isn’t supposed to be a burner, that isn’t part of his game but I still wonder what an offseason of training will do for his straightaway speed. He’s first two steps could be more explosive and maybe that is still a symptom of his recovery.  

7:18 – Great defensive play by Stecher breaks up the cross-seam pass and the puck comes directly to Juolevi. Again, watch the tight turn and first two crossovers as he changes direction, he’s tired and at the end of his shift, but it’s a definite area of improvement. He’s back pressured and he makes the controlled play to send the puck into open space where the Canucks have strength. 

3rd Period

16:55 – Aggressive once again in the neutral zone, steps up and challenges Roslovic preventing any neutral zone transition. A couple of seconds later he steps up once again to challenge a Jet at the blueline, he knows Beagle has his back. 

16:39 – Receives d-to-d pass and is calm with forechecking pressure coming down. He fakes going up on the strong side and then holds onto the puck as the forecheck bites on the fake and skates by him. Sends a stretch pass towards the weakside for Beagle. Not his best pass but I like the poise and idea.

10:44 – Okay, this is his first real test under pressure this game. He’s defending a two-on-one and I like that he is directing the backchecking pressure. He’s in a great position to defend the pass and makes the stop with his feet. Puck is thrown to the corner and Juolevi provides solid support for a reversal behind the net. This was also the first outlet pass he tried to make this game with immediate pressure in his face and he doesn’t make the greatest pass. The camera angle makes it hard to see exactly what happened but it is intercepted by the Jets. Kulikov has a fantastic wraparound opportunity but Juolevi is there waiting on the weakside post to deny Kulikov the empty cage. Nice read! This was by far Juolevi’s most eventful shift and we saw a lot of the good to his game but we also saw something that has been a known issue for him. Coming up through the OHL and even in the AHL, he’s been known to be almost a little too cool under pressure and as we saw in his attempted breakout pass under pressure, he didn’t make a strong tape-to-tape pass or chip it up and out.