“A Finnish defenseman from the London Knights named Olli? Sounds like a good choice to us.” That’s what the Pittsburgh Penguins tweeted at the Vancouver Canucks after the Canucks drafted Olli Juolevi with the fifth overall pick at the 2016 NHL Draft on Friday night. The Penguins were referencing their own Olli Maata, a 21-year old Finnish defender who played his junior hockey with the London Knights and recently had a great Stanley Cup Final with the Penguins.
Many comparisons have been drawn between Juolevi and players like Maata. While some were shocked that the Canucks didn’t take Matthew Tkachuk with their fifth overall pick, taking Juolevi was by no means a weak choice – in fact, it was a very good one. Projected as one of the top defenders at this year’s draft, Juolevi was dominant this season with the OHL’s London Knights. He finished third in scoring for rookie defenders in the OHL with 42 points and helped lead his team to a Memorial Cup win with seven assists in four games. He had a strong showing at the 2016 World Juniors as well, helping Finland walk away with the gold medal.
Juolevi has been described as being an extremely smart hockey player with offensive talent, great skating, and great transition skills. He played on the Knights’ top powerplay and penalty kill units as well. He is, in other words, a very complete player, with the only concern being his physical strength.
“He’s a high hockey sense guy. In his own end, we call it defensive awareness where he uses his hockey sense to get in lanes, to put sticks in lanes. He gets the puck and he can move it up ice fast,” Canucks GM Jim Benning told TSN 1040. “He’s the new style of transitional defenseman that we’re seeing a lot of in today’s game.”
The Canucks had five other picks in the 2016 NHL Draft as well. With the 64th pick they took right winger William Lockwood, a choice which confused some. Lockwood spent the past season in the US National Team Development Program and plays with a lot of speed. However, there has been concern about his point production.
With the 140th pick, the Canucks selected another defender, Cole Candella. Candella played with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs this past season and is known as to be a strong skater with offensive capabilities.
Left winger Jakob Stukel, who was born in B.C. and played part of his WHL career with the Vancouver Giants, was selected 154th overall by the Canucks. His offensive game exploded once he was traded to Calgary this past season, scoring 34 goals and 22 assists in 57 games.
Latvian centre Rodrigo Abols was selected 184th overall. The Canucks are fairly familiar with Abols, as he attended the Young Stars Classic with the Canucks on a tryout in September 2015. The Canucks liked what they saw from Abols; he started the Young Stars Classic playing on the fourth line and finished playing on the first line with Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann.
With their final pick, the Canucks selected centre Brett McKenzie of the OHL’s North Bay Battalion 194th overall. McKenzie had 26 goals and 27 assists in 66 games with North Bay this past season.