By Jason Botchford Sept 17, 2016
Composed, cerebral and never out of position, Vancouver’s top draft pick shows off his mature and distinctly non-flashy game
PENTICTON — If you’re waiting for a moment, something grand and dynamic, before you begin pouring out your undying adoration for Olli Juolevi on social media, have a seat.
It could be a while.
There were essentially two wildly different reactions to Juolevi’s first game in a Canucks uniform Friday. Some, most of whom were at home watching the fifth-overall draft pick play on YouTube, were left wanting, whispering, “I don’t get it.”
Others, most of whom were watching the game in the rink he was playing in, were geared up, convinced he was the best Canuck on the ice.
This much is a lock, in the chaotic atmosphere that is common for Young Stars games, Juolevi played quiet, disciplined and mature. He was a Sultan of Smooth. Both on the ice, and off it.
He avoided panic and contact, almost entirely. He was hit once by the Edmonton Oilers Young Stars, when he turned to make a play on a puck late in the second.
“Sometimes, you have to take the hit,” Juolevi said. “I knew there was pressure coming.
“I thought, ‘Why not take it? Maybe I can jam his offensive game.’”
Getting hit in the back, Juolevi drew a penalty on that play, something he seemed almost disappointed in after the game.
“I didn’t think it was a penalty. It wasn’t that big. It was a good hit,” he said.
None of his teammates understand the nuances of his game more than Troy Stecher. They were paired together the Canucks development camp in July and again in Vancouver’s first game in Penticton.
Understanding Juolevi can play near-flawless positionally, Stecher was impressively aggressive, piling up nine shots on net, by head coach Travis Green’s count.
“He’s such a smart player,” Stecher said of the Canucks’ first stud defensive prospect in years.
“When I wanted to go, I knew he was going to be back.
“He’s so smooth. He’s so reliable. He’ll never be too flashy, but he’s not going to make a mistake. He’s going to make the hard, simple play.
“You could just tell right away (when I met him). Off the ice, he’s this relaxed kid who has this swagger to him. It translates to the ice. He’s a composed player.”
Stecher, you will learn, loves to talk. It’s part of what makes him such a powerful locker-room presence, and why many scouts here are saying he’s “wired to be a leader.”
Juolevi said he was chattering about the game for almost all of the three periods, which ended in a 4-1 Vancouver loss.
“A lot of it, I just let go in one ear, and drift out the other,” Juolevi said, smiling.
Juolevi claimed he was nervous heading into his debut. When it was pointed out that it sure didn’t look like it, he volleyed back with a pretty interesting thought not many 18-year-olds would have come up with.
“I don’t think you were nervous when you were asking me those questions, but how would I know?” Juolevi said. “What matters is, you love your job and I love mine.”
What also matters, Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins is going to love him, even before he puts on the 15 extra pounds he’s probably going to need to compete nightly in the NHL.
Any coach would.
“His game is one of those where you might never look and say ‘Wow, that was some end-to-end rush,’” Green said. “It’s just going to be a nice quiet game where he controls the puck.”
Asked if players like Juolevi are a coach’s dream, Green immediately said he was.
“Anytime you have a defenceman who you don’t really have to talk to at all, that’s kind of what you like,” Green said, before pointing out that this tournament may be the most difficult games for Juolevi to really show what he’s capable of.
“We were talking about him the other night with some of our scouts. I think those kinds of defencemen are better when the game is better, cleaner.
“His game is going to be better suited for an NHL game. Where everyone’s timing is on, and it’s not as scramble-y.
“He’s going to be a helluva defenceman.”
Until then, it’s not going to be easy for a lot of people to pick out where Juolevi is excelling. But it wasn’t easy to see how good Dan Hamhuis was when he first arrived in Vancouver, either.
“(Juolevi) has got a lot of poise. He reads the game well. His hockey sense is a premium.
“Somethings you just don’t have to teach really good players.
“It’s not going to be if he plays (in the NHL). It’s just when.”
As soon as now?
People will have to wait for main training camp before trying to answer that one.