Calgary Flames prospect Juuso Valimaki wants to turn pro this season and the Finnish defenceman is doing everything he can to prepare himself for his second training camp with the NHL team that selected him 16th overall in 2017.
“It’s pretty bright in my mind that I want to take a spot with the big club, so that’s kind of all I’m focused on,” Valimaki told Sportsnet 960’s Pat Steinberg Friday at Flames development camp.
Despite dealing with some injuries in 2017-18, Valimaki managed 45 points in 43 games with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans—he has a whopping 138 points in 159 junior games over the past three seasons—and served as captain of Finland’s world juniors squad.
The 19-year-old attended the Flames’ 2017 training camp and even suited up for a handful of pre-season games, experiences he’s using to his benefit this year.
“It was a great experience,” he explained. “Those were the first games playing against men and especially those pre-season games playing against the best players in the world, so I obviously learned a lot. Now, going into the second year, I know what to expect. I know the people here. Obviously the coach changed and stuff but still I know the management and a lot of the players, so it’s a lot easier for me to go into the second year.”
The Flames have been busy this summer with the most notable move being the trade with Carolina that sent Dougie Hamilton, Adam Fox and Micheal Ferland to the Hurricanes in exchange for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm.
Hanifin joins Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone as players that seemingly have their spots on the blue line locked up. However, with a strong showing in camp, Valimaki would have an opportunity to potentially leapfrog the likes of Brett Kulak, Dalton Prout, Rasmus Andersson and others to earn a spot with the big club.
“No going back to junior anymore,” Valimaki said. “That’s the plan, to play some NHL games. We’ll see how many that will be but obviously even if I get sent down [to the AHL] that won’t be the last decision of the year. … I’m just more focussed on doing my work and doing everything I can every day to prove that I’m ready for the NHL.”
The two-time WHL Western Conference second-team all-star appears rather self-aware, so he identified the biggest differences between the pros and minors and knows the areas in which he needs to improve most.
“Probably the biggest thing for me is the difference in size,” he added. “You’re playing against the best players in the world, box-outs and that kind of stuff, and what I noticed last year is there’s not much time with the puck so it’s a totally different world than junior games. You gotta move the pucks quick.”