Olli Juolevi?! Really?

We discussed Oli Juolevi’s surge up the Canucks’ defensive depth chart and his performance Wednesday vs Winnipeg on our new podcast.

Something interesting has happened – something we’re not used to, and, quite frankly, I don’t know how to react.

Olli Juolevi has shown positive improvement and, at time of publication, is no longer the albatross of the Jim Benning-led drafting decisions in Vancouver (once again that honour falls to Jake Virtanen).

It’s been just over four years since the Canucks drafted the Finnish defenseman in a move that most say was out of left field. Since that day, Juolevi’s been riddled with bad luck injuries, a rumoured video game addiction, and his slow development has been the focus of fan and media frustration with Jim Benning. In November of last year, when he was shut down for a period of time due to hip soreness, everyone assumed the worst.

And then…  something unusual happened.  He returned in early December and put up twenty points (2G, 18A) before the AHL season was shut down due to COVID-19. He was playing tremendous hockey at the American League level.

Juolevi began voluntarily skating and practicing at Rogers Arena during Phase 2 of the NHL’s Return To Play plan, appearing to be making the most of the layoff. What more could a player plagued with bad luck injuries ask for? He’s had an unexpected extended window of time to get as healthy as possible, and early signs suggest it’s paid off.

Olli Juolevi turned heads quickly at the Canucks’ summer camp and began climbing the defensive depth chart. Receiving praise by Travis Green on more than one occasion, it seemed like the healthier and maturer Juolevi was getting comfortable and confident, at least at this variation of the NHL level(Inter-squad scrimmages following a four month layoff during a pandemic, isn’t exactly business as usual).

With Jordie Benn waiting in Dallas for the birth of his child and unable to join the team due to quarantine protocol, the opportunity is there for Juolevi. He dressed as the seventh defenseman Wednesday night vs. Winnipeg in the Canucks’ lone exhibition game and, quite frankly, looked good.

He didn’t look out of place at all in his limited 6:38 of ice time. He read the puck well, wascomfortable, and made simple and smart plays. No turnovers or penalties recorded for the maligned defenseman yet to make his NHL debut.

It was the exact showing you want out of a 22 year old defenseman. With the pressure by coaches and themselves not to screw up out there, if a rookie d-man is neither seen nor heard (like a Milford man), consider it a good night at the office.

Hell, the only GIF of Juolevi that came out of Wednesday night’s game was a sensible outlet pass he made midway through the first period:

Credit: Wyatt Arndt – The Athletic

Does this sensible 6ish minutes of play give fans or the Canucks’ scouting department a reason to celebrate? Not really. But what it does show is that this impressionable young d-man is making noticeable improvement, and suggests that he could move up to the NHL. Perhaps with nagging injuries in the rear view, a fresh slate and a clear mindset towards the game is just what Juolevi needed. As long as Benn is away from the Canucks, Juolevi has the chance to be Vancouver’s seventh defenseman and compete for a roster spot during their best of five play in series vs the Minnesota Wild.

At this point, after so many setbacks, it’s all you can hope for.  If you’re not cheering this kid to succeed and challenge for an everyday roster spot, what the hell are you doing?

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