Leafs Draft Watch Profile: Juuso Valimaki
This is the fourth in a series of posts where we will take a look at five players the Toronto Maple Leafs could potentially pick at the upcoming 2017 NHL draft this week.
In the last post, we looked at Erik Brannstrom, a defenseman playing for HV71, as a possible player for the Toronto Maple Leafs to pick on June 23rd.
Over the past few years, there is always that one player on draft day that doesn't get selected where many scouts predicted he would end up. Seth Jones and Jakob Chychrun are two recent examples and Juuso Valimaki, defenseman of the Tri-City Americans, might be the next player added to the list. If he is available when the Leafs pick at 17th, they should not hesitate to draft him.
Height: 6 foot 2 inches
Weight: 201 Pounds
Hometown: Nokia, FIN
StatsProvided by Elite Prospects
Ranked #14 by ISS Hockey
Ranked #12 by Future Considerations
Ranked #14 by McKeen's Hockey
Ranked #11 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)
List provided by Elite Prospects.
What the scouts say
ISS Hockey - Mar. 11th: "Underrated offensive upside. Very good shot/gets it to the net rarely using a slap shot"
Jeff Marek of Sportsnet - Mar. 8th: "A good all-around blueliner who’s enjoyed a great experience at the junior and international level. Not huge, but possesses great awareness. Has drawn comparisons to Olli Juolevi (VAN)."
ISS Hockey - Feb. 11th: "Smart w/great passing skills."
Mike Morreale NHL.com - Jan. 20th: "The two-way defenseman has brought more assertiveness to his game in his second WHL season. Valimaki (6-1, 204) has 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 38 games and has shown more offensive drive and confidence in his game."
Future Considerations: "A strong, minute-munching, two-way, dependable blueliner…not a lot of high-end offensive flash or dash to his game, but just makes the right play consistently…good vision and puck moving ability, has no panic to his game and waits for his options…can sling the puck around with strong accurate passes…his hockey sense allows him to read and react to the play well in advance…very committed to blocking shots"
Dennis Schellenberg Hockey Prospectus - Nov. 9th: "A mature and responsible two-way defenseman who makes good decisions with the puck. Not the most flashy player but he shows poise with the puck and plays very reliable at both ends. Shows some leadership skills, especially when quarterbacking the powerplay. "
List of quotes provided by My NHL Draft.
There are a few noticeable aspects of Juuso Valimaki's game that should be intriguing for the Leafs to consider taking him.
During his draft year, Valimaki exploded offensively and registered solid numbers at the right time. In just 60 games played, he scored 19 goals, 42 assists, and 61 points, which was the 7th best in the WHL. This offensive improvement is a positive sign in his development as a player and his confidence will only grow from here.
To go along with his offensive skills, Valimaki also possesses some impressive hockey intelligence on both ends of the ice. He likes to jump in on the attack, plays a simple game while defending, and can put himself in the right position on offense. These are traits that modern NHL players use to be effective at the highest level, and he appears to already have this skill set.
One of Valimaki's more impressive talents is his skating ability for someone of his height. Standing at 6 foot 2, he is able to get power in his stride and can out-skate just about any player he has faced in the WHL thus far. This allows him to become an effective quarterback on the power play and distribute the puck well, making him a dangerous player on the ice.
Valimaski appears to have no major weaknesses to his game, but there are some areas he could improve upon to become even better than he currently is.
Although he is blessed with a good frame, Valimaski isn't an overly physical player on a consistent basis. This makes it difficult for him to win many puck battles in the corner, where strength is an essential part of modern NHL players. He doesn't need to hit players more, but improving his strength in puck battles will go a long way.
While Valimaski does possess strong skating abilities for someone his size, he lacks agility in his strides. This limits his effectiveness in handling the puck on the rush and from end to end, as he isn't as quick as smaller defenders. More experience and confidence in his skating abilities will help him improve his agility.
Ultimately, the only major thing that Valimaski needs to work on is keeping his offensive game up for the foreseeable future. Prior to this season, his career highs in points was 33 and had never scored more than 10 goals once until this year. The last thing he should do is make this season seem like a fluke, and instead build on it to become a consistent player offensively.
Is he worth it?
All things considered, there is a lot to like about Valimaski as a prospect. He had a great season in terms of offensive production, plays well at both ends of the ice, and skate well for someone of his size.
There are a few things that he does need to improve upon to further progress his career, including his strength, agility, and maintaining strong offensive numbers on a consistent basis. With two years of experience on North American ice under his belt, he will definitely continue to enhance his skill set.
At the end of the day, Valimaski is a solid defensive prospect that has many good things going for him, especially with comparables to players such as Mattias Ekholm and Olli Juolevi. If he winds up at the 17th spot in the NHL draft on June 23, the Leafs should not hesitate to select him.
You can follow Michael Mazzei on Twitter @MichaelMazzei3.