This could be Olli Juolevi's last chance with Canucks

Sep 24 2021, 11:06 pm

It wasn’t a good look.

After another one of Travis Green’s famous bag skates, nobody looked more wrecked than Olli Juolevi. Sprawled out on the ice, looking like a lifeless snow angel, the once highly touted defenceman was being yelled at by some of his teammates to get up.

Green’s bag skate has humbled many players over the years, and by the Canucks head coach’s own admission, it’s especially hard on new players. Certainly, that appeared to be true with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland.

But Juolevi? He’s not new. The 23-year-old Finnish defenceman has been in the Canucks’ organization for more than five years.

While one bag skate on the first day of training camp doesn’t define a player, the endurance test has a purpose.

“We do [the bag skate] for a reason,” Green explained on Thursday. “You learn a lot about what a guy’s done over the summer to get ready, especially if they know that it’s coming.”

Juolevi has had terrible luck with injuries through much of his career, and he was one of the Canucks players that was hit especially hard by the P.1 variant of COVID-19 last season.

“[Juolevi] was one of our guys who got really sick,” Benning said back in May. “He lost a bunch of weight there in those three weeks. I think he lost 10-15 pounds.”

At this stage of his development, it’s clear that Juolevi will never reach the level Jim Benning hoped he would when he picked him fifth overall in 2016 — ahead of Matthew Tkachuk and Clayton Keller, as well as defencemen like Mikhail Sergachev, Charlie McAvoy, and Jakob Chychrun.

The question now is, is Juolevi an NHL player?

He was, technically, for the first time last season, as he didn’t play a single game in the AHL. But Juolevi appeared in just 23 games and played heavily sheltered minutes by Green, as he averaged just 13:13 of ice time per game. He was a healthy scratch many times last season, sitting a bunch of times in favour of Jalen Chatfield.

Juolevi will require waivers to be sent to the AHL this season, and there’s a chance he could be claimed if left exposed. The Canucks, after all, did just protect the 6-foot-2, 182-pound defenceman in the expansion draft.

Assuming Travis Hamonic is available to start the season and Quinn Hughes is signed, Juolevi will be one of four defencemen fighting for 2-3 spots on the opening night roster. Particularly if Jack Rathbone earns a spot out of camp, that could very well spell the end for Juolevi in Vancouver.

Juolevi is very much at that “prove it” age, a point where teams often give up on their prospects if they still haven’t delivered at the NHL level yet. He began camp paired with Tyler Myers, so that’s an indication that the organization hasn’t given up on him yet.

But how long will the Canucks continue to be patient?

The first impression at this camp wasn’t good, but the good news is there’s still time to change the narrative. Juolevi must prove that he can be relied upon defensively, while making intelligent decisions with the puck.

If he does that and earns a spot on the team, his first-day misery will be but a distant memory.

But if not? Well, then that opens the door for left-side defenders like Rathbone and Brad Hunt to pass him on the depth chart.

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