Olli Juolevi came into Vancouver Canucks training camp with the best opportunity of his career. Now he’ll join the Florida Panthers, perhaps with a better one.
Heading into camp, the Canucks had a hole on the left side of their defence and Juolevi, with his cheap contract and ability to play on the penalty kill, had a solid shot of earning that spot.
But then training camp began and Juolevi immediately struggled, crashing and burning in the team’s annual bag skate. It was particularly disappointing because Juolevi knew that the skate was coming — he’d done it before at previous camps.
“We do it for a reason,” said Green. “It's a tough skate but a lot of them have done it a lot of times. New players probably struggle with it a little bit more just because they haven't done it. Guys that have been here, they know what's coming. And again, I've seen the skate done a lot of times, so you learn a lot about what a guy's done over the summer to get ready, especially if they know that it's coming.”
On the first day of camp, Juolevi was paired with Tyler Myers on a potential Canucks third pairing. On the second day of camp, he was paired with Brady Keeper and Victor Persson. The message could not have been more clear.
Juolevi did improve throughout the preseason, with some solid minutes on the penalty kill and his usual heads-up breakout passes. There were just two big problems.
One was his mobility, which was still suspect. Not only did he struggle with his pivots, leading to getting beaten on the outside, he was also frequently late to puck battles. That led to some long shifts in the defensive zone for the former fifth overall pick.
The bigger issue was Jack Rathbone. The 22-year-old rookie came into camp hungry to earn that spot on the left side — he took hold of the spot early and wouldn’t let it go. It was eminently clear that Rathbone belonged not only in the NHL but in the Canucks lineup, which left no spot for Juolevi to earn.
Instead of risking Juolevi getting claimed on waivers or sitting him in the pressbox as the team’s seventh defenceman, the Canucks have evidently decided to move on. As first reported by The Athletic’s Pierre Lebrun, Juolevi has been traded to the Panthers.
The Canucks have a long history of trades with the Panthers, most famously the deal for Roberto Luongo.
In Florida, Juolevi might not immediately step into the lineup but the Panthers may have less issue keeping him in the press box, ready to play when they need him. The Panthers also just lost another former Canuck, Kevin Connauton, to a short-term injury, so Juolevi fills that gap.
As first reported by The Athletic's Thomas Drance, the Canucks will be getting two players back in the deal: Juho Lammikko and Noah Juulsen.
Lammikko is a 25-year-old forward with good size at 6'3", 84 games of NHL experience, and the versatility to play at both centre and on the wing. Most notably, he has experience killing penalties, which became a major area of concern during the preseason. Evidently, the Canucks were not satisfied with their in-house options on the penalty kill and wanted some outside help.
Like Juolevi, Juulsen is a former first-round pick, albeit 26th overall rather than fifth overall. And, like Juolevi, Juulsen hasn't been able to stick in the NHL. In fact, he was recently waived by the Panthers.
There are a few key differences, however. One is that Juulsen has cleared waivers already and so can be assigned directly to the Abbotsford Canucks. Another is that Juulsen is a right-hand shot and immediately bolsters the Canucks' troublingly weak depth on the right side. Finally, Juulsen is a bigger, more physical player than Juolevi, which is an element the Canucks' defence has missed at times. Frankly, he's a better skater too.
Whether or not Juulsen is an NHL-caliber defenceman remains to be seen but the thought process is clear for the Canucks — Juulsen fills a need that Juolevi did not.
In addition, Juulsen is from Abbotsford, so will get the opportunity to play in front of his hometown fans.
Assuming there are no other pieces involved, this is a decent return for Juolevi, whose value has taken a nosedive in recent years. Lammikko fills an immediate need, while the Canucks can take a chance on Juulsen filling a need in the future.