By: Brayden Fengler / August 13, 2021
No team wants to give up on one of their first-round picks, especially one as high as a top-five pick like Olie Juolevi was for the Canucks in 2016. Not every player develops in the same way, and time is a huge part of that equation. If you’ve been a hockey fan for more than a season, you’ve likely at some point been witness to the sudden emergence of a rookie or prospect that’s been in a team’s system for years but is only just finding their stride.
Players can and have simply found new gears at all stages of their careers. However, there is a risk in waiting, as prospects only lose value the longer they are held without improved performance. This begs the question, have the Canucks waited too long on Juolevi is he destined to be picked up on the waiver wire. Or is there something that Benning sees in him that may soon come to light?
Olli, Olli, Olli
Olli Juolevi has played a total of 24 games in a Canucks sweater. He dressed for 1 playoff game in the bubble, with no points to show for it, and 23 games in this most recent season, with 2 goals and 1 assist to his name.
This is an incredibly small sample size in the grand scheme of things, but in a way, it might be just enough, depending on how the Canucks plan to leverage this prospect. Juolevi has averaged a 13:13 TOI in his time with the team, and in that time frame, he has received multiple chances to step up his game, and yet he just hasn’t done it.
He shows moments of defensive awareness and glimpses of skill that make it easy to understand why he’s still being tried out by the team.
But at a certain point, the organization needs to realize that the 23-year-old is one to two years away from reaching the point when most NHL players have developed to their peak potential. Or have at least strongly hinted at their likely trajectory in the league. There are late bloomers of course, but most players show who they truly are by age 24 – 25. Are the Canucks right to keep trying him out for the remainder of that time period, or do they part with him before the going gets tougher?
Could They Trade Him?
Juolevi’s new deal at league minimum for one year is of course a “show me” deal. If Juolevi can’t make a larger splash on the team this season, they would be near foolish to extend him yet again next off-season. As a first-round pick, still in his early twenties, perhaps there is a small window of potential value if the Canucks decide to part ways with him now.
Juolevi is no longer waiver exempt, which means that if Juolevi starts on the Canucks opening night roster, and the team gets a mediocre performance out of him during a good part of the season, they will then have a hard time trading him. If it becomes apparent that the Canucks don’t have room for Juolevi on their roster, most interested teams would likely just wait until the young defenceman was out on waivers, rather than offering something unnecessary to the Canucks in return.
If there was a time to trade him it would be now. The Canucks could use his unproven nature as a gambling angle in trade talks, “maybe he pops off, maybe he doesn’t”. He is a young high-round pick and although his performance wouldn’t dictate a huge return, any return would be better if he ends up being lost through waivers or if he clears and just sits in Abbotsford as organization depth.
As an RFA you can sell the upside of Juolevi to interested parties, but only for a little while longer. If Juolevi gets a larger showcase this season and continues to underperform, then the Canucks may have missed out on the best trade opportunity surrounding the Finnish player for the rest of his career.
What are the Depth of the Defence
The Canucks’ current rostered defensive depth is as follows:
Hughes, Ekman-Larsson, Myers, Hamonic, Poolman, Juolevi
Juolevi is a left D, the same position as the top two defensive depth pieces in Hughes and Ekman-Larsson. It would be delusional to think that Juolevi is ever going to crack the top two lines, barring major injury. Juolevi’s deployment ceiling is on the Canucks is 3rd line, and he’s still going to have to fight for it.
Luke Schenn is likely to be fighting Poolman for a spot on the right side, but chomping at the heels of Juolevi is Jack Rathbone. Rathbone, a left-shot D caught every fan’s eye at the end of last season and may make a big case for himself at training camp. Poolman is too new and too expensive to be sent to Abbotsford so soon. Even if Schenn does earn his spot, Jim Benning will likely keep Poolman in the press box rather than sending him down the road to Abbotsford.
It will likely be either Schenn or Poolman who will stay up as the 7th D-man, and if Rathbone makes it obvious that he’s the superior left D, then how can the team justify keeping Juolevi on the squad. They would have to send him down, and since he’s not waiver exempt, there is a good chance that he will be snagged, Realistically this may be the price that the Canucks have to pay for Rathbone, so long and both Poolman and Schenn are staying in contention for that last defenceman roll.
If We Lose Juolevi
Not to completely toss aside Juolevi as a player, as he no doubt has something more to prove, but if the team loses him, one way or another, it shouldn’t be a big deal. He’s been in the Canucks system for 4 years now, starting with Utica in 2018-19, yes he’s struggled with knee injuries, but he’s also clearly not a superstar. The last thing this team needs is to baby along another top 10 draft pick for more years than they should, just in the hopes that he might eventually make management look good for drafting him.
Juolevi may still grow into a reliable piece for any team, and you hate to let those guys walk, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t acquire all these pieces to make a cup appearance like the Canucks have this off-season, and then manage assets in an attempt to further develop a disappointing prospect.
It’s the half measures that have hampered this team in the past with their rebuild, and if they’re out of the rebuild, they need to actually be out. management has put themselves in the position where something substantial has to give on the back end.