The 2016 NHL Entry Draft is 35 days away and the Minnesota Wild are looking to find that next star to raise their franchise to the next level. Hockey Wilderness is counting down the days with a mock draft. We are at Pick 5 today, and the Vancouver Canucks are on the clock.
Though many in Vancouver are disappointed their pick fell to number 5 following a tumultuous season, the Canucks still have the ability to select a top player and address an organizational need. They are at a crossroad on their blue line, with half of their top-6 set to be unrestricted free agents. They also are lacking a true #1 defenseman, with pending UFA Dan Hamhuis filling the role adequately, though his age and lack of contract don't paint a clear picture of his future in Vancouver. So, having dropped from 3rd to 5th via the draft lottery, it removes the Canucks from having to choose between one of the top-3, can't miss picks in the draft and allows them to draft for need. With the 5th pick, Jim Benning selects Olli Juolevi from the London Knights of the OHL.
Vancouver's Prospect Pool
The prospect pipeline is fairly healthy for the Canucks. The have depth down the middle and a couple of of potentially game-breaking forwards headed toward the big show. They also have two excellent up-and-coming netminders. Their big names are RWs Jake Virtanen and Brock Boeser, goaltender Thatcher Demko and center Cole Cassels. They also have a couple guys in the next tier of prospects in LW Brendan Gaunce and D Jordan Subban. However, they are very much lacking a top-end defensive prospect that will be a sure thing in the NHL.
Virtanen, Boeser and Demko really set the stage for the development of the oranization, as each figures heavily into future plans. There are question marks surrounding everyone else, and with an uncertain picture surrounding the blue line on the big club, it becomes apparent that landing a top-tier defender is key for both now and the future. The draft presents each team with the opportunity to do just that, and this is a no-brainer for GM Benning when looking at the condition of each position on his team. Also, being a team that spends to the cap, bringing a prospect to the big club will pay dividends with managing the salary cap.
About Olli Juolevi
Juolevi started the season playing second fiddle to Jakob Chychrun when it came to scouting reports of NHL defenseman prospects. He had suffered a knee injury which required surgery and shortened his season, and there may have been some concerns about the impact the injury might have on his future. However, his play for the Finnish team in the World Juniors has turned some heads and increased the value of Juolevi's stock. Olli was just 17 (turned 18 in May) while playing against competition that was 19-and under in the tournament. Several scouts have reported that there is a a major difference between the developing body of a 17 year old and the developed body of the 19 year olds he was competing against. He posted 9 assists in 7 games on the path to winning a gold medal.
He has developed a reputation for possessing a very high Hockey IQ, which contributes to his excellent positioning as well as ability to distribute the puck. Though he has a big body at 6'2" and 183 lbs, he is considerably smaller than Chychrun, who weighs in at 214 lbs. But the two play very different styles, and Juolevi is unanimously given the higher grade when it comes to mental development. He also is recognized for above-average stick handling skills, which all contribute to his reputation as a two-way defender. But because the offensive numbers have been so noticeable, his defense is often overlooked. He plays against opponents' top lines every night and has the luxury of practicing against Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk and Christian Dvorak, who are also members of the Knights. He can play top minutes as well as quarterback the power play. He has all the makings of a true #1 Defender. Here's a look at Juolevi's age 17 season in the OHL:
How would he fit with the Wild?
Juolevi seems to be the player you would get if you combined Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella and separated them back out. He has the size and scoring instinct of Scandella with the hockey IQ, positioning and soft hands of Brodin. He would quickly find a place on the ice because he can not only defend, but can also contribute on the scoresheet. The Wild are deep on the blue line, but their players tend to be purely offensive defensemen or purely defensive defensemen. Juolevi brings both and could bring balance to his pairing without needing to have a completely complementary player. He would become the quarterback of the second power play unit and the heir-apparent to Ryan Suter on the first unit.
However, the Wild are already very deep on the blue line, and even if they had the 5th pick, they would likely go in a different direction.