If you’re curious about how Finland’s latest crop of draft-eligible defencemen is looking, check out Juuso Valimaki. The smart, smooth-skating rearguard is an intriguing prospect and has drawn comparisons to fellow young Finn Olli Juolevi.
The two-way defenceman won’t be selected as early as the Canucks’ 2016 draft pick (fifth overall), but he possesses a similar build and style of play as his Team Finland teammate. Like many of the country’s young rearguards, Valimaki has strong hockey sense, excellent awareness and great offensive upside, making him an appealing pick with plenty of potential for a team looking for defence mid-way through the first round.
Here’s what you need to know about the promising Finnish prospect.
Team: Tri-City Americans (WHL)
From: Nokia, Finland
Weight: 201 pounds
NHL Central Scouting ranking (final): No. 11 (North American skaters)
Jeff Marek’s Take: “Can play in all situations and sees the ice well. Loves to join the rush and has the skating to make sure he gets back.”
His family is all-in on his career
When it comes to developing his game, Valimaki has a best-of-both-worlds situation having grown up in the Finnish system and then taking the opportunity to hone his skill in the WHL.
In 2015, the Finn made the big move to Washington to play for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans and get closer to his NHL dreams.
“That decision last year … moving away from home was tough,” Valimaki told NHL.com. “I talked a lot with my family and we thought it was the best place for me to become a better player and a better person here in the United States and the Western Hockey League. I wanted to get lots of games and lots of ice time and learn how to play North American hockey here.”
304 Likes, 32 Comments – Juuso Välimäki (@juusovalimaki) on Instagram: “Now it’s time to go..! #excited #happyandsad”
His family supported the move—so much so that, a year later, they decided to join him so he and Tri-City teammate (and fellow top-rated 2017 draft prospect) Michael Rasmussen could live with them during their all-important draft year.
“My mom had an idea and she saw the opportunity there to move. I think it’s been really good for us,” Valimaki said of his mother’s decision to move last August along with Valimaki’s two younger brothers, who also play hockey. “I think it’s been good for [my brothers] too, to see another country, another culture. My brothers are both in school and playing here too. I think it’s been a really good experience for them too.”
He made huge offensive strides this season
Maybe it was the home-cooked meals, maybe it was a big off-season of training, but Valimaki made huge offensive strides in 2016-17. He almost tripled his goal total and doubled his points from his rookie season (which were impressive in their own right: 7-25-32), tallying 19 goals and 42 assists for 61 points in 60 games—second among his team’s defencemen and fourth team-wide.
“I think his offensive game has really come along this year,” NHL Central Scouting’s John Williams told NHL.com back in December. “He’s got a fair number of goals and he’s pushing the game offensively more than he did last year. Last year he was good offensively … he moved the puck but he got hurt and missed a lot of time. He was feeling his way more last year.”
(Valimaki missed 16 games in his rookie season and 12 games in 2016-17.)
“This year he’s been more assertive and he’s trying to dictate the game more,” said Williams.
That assertiveness and ability to jump off his blue line post and join an offensive rush makes him a high-risk, high-reward kind of player, as he’s not the kind of stay-at-home rearguard some clubs may be seeking. But if he can find the right fit with a club that can work with him to reign him in when needed, but let him loose when the opportunity arises, he could really thrive.
He impressed at the combine
Valimaki fared well at the NHL Scouting Combine, particularly on the two (daunting) stationary bike tests—no surprise, considering he’s often described as a player who’s able to eat up minutes and speed up the ice into the offensive zone to jump-start scoring plays (as demonstrated in the video above).
He clocked in 15:57 on the VO2max test and ranked fourth in Peak Power Output (16.9 watts/kg) of the Wingate Cycle Ergometer Test, an anaerobic fitness test meant to measure a skater’s explosiveness.
That explosiveness was also evident in the Pro Agility (Left) Shuttle Run, where Valimaki scored a 4.45 to rank third among all prospects in that test. (He didn’t rank in the top 10 of the right-side test.)
He captained Team Finland to gold last year
Valimaki has suited up for Suomi several times in his young career, and aside from Finland’s disappointing run at the 2017 world juniors, has had plenty of international success.
He earned silver at the 2015 IIHF World Under-18 Championship and captained the team to a gold medal the following year.
909 Likes, 27 Comments – Juuso Välimäki (@juusovalimaki) on Instagram: “MAAILMANMESTARI!!!!”
He was also captain of the country’s under-16 team.