Not many have seen a climb in their draft stock this season more than Olli Juolevi. When the Finnish defenseman came over to North America to play in the OHL this past summer, scouts knew who he was but not necessarily how good he could be.
When he joined the London Knights before the season, Juolevi was a little overshadowed by other big name acquisitions like Matthew Tkachuk and Max Jones. Juolevi was drafted later in the CHL Import draft because many thought he might stay in Finland to play with Jokerit.
Where Is He Ranked?
Juolevi has had one of the fastest ascension up the rankings of anyone this season. He went from being a late first round pick by many to now being considered potentially the best defenseman in the draft. He is currently ranked eight on our consolidated ranking list but some have him as high as the fifth best prospect in the draft. This seems a little high. Juolevi is a great talent but top four or five seems like a stretch. Our own Jon Steitzer summed it up perfectly when he said that Juolevi “may have gone from being the most underrated player in the first round to being the most overrated”.
Starting the season ranked behind guys like Kale Clague, Chad Krys and Dante Fabbro, Juolevi has far outperformed and jumped well over them in the draft rankings. He will definitely be drafted in the top-10 but the recent talk of to five seems a little too high.
What He Does Well
He is a tremendous skater and knows what to do when the puck is on his stick. Many think that Juolevi has the potential to be a top-pair, 25+ minute a game, all situation defender in the NHL. He has the all-around skills needed to succeed at the pro level and a hockey IQ that can turn those raw skills into star potential.
Juolevi’s biggest asset is likely his mind. He is the kind of player that simply knows how to think like a professional hockey player. He’s poised beyond his age and has the ability to react and make the right decision with the puck instantly. He is a strong skater that he has the speed to move the puck quickly through the neutral zone. He uses his size and balance well and is very hard to force off of the puck. his instincts also make him a very strong passer. He can see his teammates and get the puck to the open man without hesitation.
He’s one of those defenders that may not dazzle in any one specific facet of the game, but he can excel at them all.
The last time a 6’2 Finnish defenseman jumped from the Finnish U20 league to the London Knights it worked out pretty well. Taking the identical path as Olli Maata is bound to draw comparisons, while they may seem convenient, the comparison is not necessarily unfair. Juolevi plays a very similar game to Maata but may even be a little more advanced at the same age. Playing as a 16-year-old in the U20 league, Juolevi had far more offensive production than Maata did. If Juolevi can turn into the NHLer Maata has been when healthy, the team that drafts him will be very glad they spent a top-10 pick on him.
What Others Are Saying
A competitive spark-plug, Olli Juolevi is a complete, all-around defenceman that can hem the opposition in their own end or make things difficult for the opposition at home; either way, he puts the pressure on and lays it on thick. A strong and balanced skater, he can rush the puck through the neutral zone with ease or backcheck with haste. Uses his size to his advantage, but knows his physical limits and plays within them. Instead of playing overly physical, he makes his presence felt by exhibiting his high-end playmaking ability and puck possession play. All-in-all, a well-rounded blueliner who thrives under pressure and can be trusted in all situations.
“He’s a poised minute-muncher with very good size and strength for a young defenseman. He makes excellent plays in the defensive zone, using his stick and body to take pucks away and clear the zone. He does a very nice job of moving the puck, showing a sharp first pass and excellent vision. Understands the game extremely well and also has good mobility. Juolevi’s poise consistently stands out.”
The World Junior Bump
As happens every year, the World Junior has created a hype around certain prospects because of their performance at the World Junior Championship. Many people don’t have an opportunity to see these players outside of the tournament, so a good showing will create a buzz that is hard to get away from.
This year, Juolevi is the beneficiary of this World Junior buzz. He had a great tournament playing for the gold medal-winning team. He was Finland’s best defender and among the best in the tournament. His performance showed everyone what he could do on the big stage and as a result, he’s ridden that wave towards the top of the draft.
Are You Risk Averse?
When talking about the top defensive prospects in the draft, you have to make a decision. Do you want to take the bigger risk that could pay off and draft Chychrun, or do you want to take the less risky player that might not have the superstar potential in Juolevi.
Juolevi is going to play in the NHL, and he’s going to be very good for a long time. That said, he is the kind of player that might max out as a number two guy on a good team. The question teams have to ask themselves is do they want a player that could range from good to very good, or do you want to take the player that could range anywhere from average to great?
The one downside to Juolevi’s season is that he hasn’t exactly had the biggest role in London. He has played a large portion of the season on the team’s second pair and as a result doesn’t line up against the opposition’s top pairing as often as someone like Jakob Chychrun. He splits time between the first and second power-play unit and is not a regular member of the team’s top penalty killing unit.
This is nothing new for an OHL rookie, but it’s the kind of thing that often make a player’s performance look better than it actually is. The perfect example of Juolevi being sheltered in London was the clinching game in their series against Kitchener. Juolevi only had three shifts in the third period and didn’t get any penalty killing time.
Does He Make Sense For The Leafs?
In short, not really? If the Leafs are picking in the top-4 Juolevi makes next to no sense for them. He’s a good player but using a top-5 pick on him seems foolhardy. If the Leafs were to trade down from four (as many have suggested they should) then maybe Juolevi would come into play in the 6-10 range.
As with McLeod, the possibility of trading back up from PIT’s pick stands if Juolevi begins to drop further than the team expects. The thing about that is that high-end defenders like Juolevi aren’t the kind that usually drop in the draft. If ay thing they get a bump as we saw with Provorov and Werenski last year.
I am a big fan of Juolevi, after seeing him in October, I had him in my personal top-10 before most scouting services. That said, I think the recent talk that he could be the top pick in the draft is a much. He has benefited from the hype surrounding the World Juniors and the London Knights and it has inflated his value somewhat. Someone drafting around eight or nine is going to get one heck of a building block when they draft Juolevi.