40

WWYDW: Valimaki(ng) the Team?

The Flames don’t exactly have the best record of, say, waiting until Christmas morning before opening their toys. In fact, they’ve been more like ‘eat every chocolate of the advent calendar on Dec. 1’ when it comes to prospect patience in recent years.

You know what? I don’t blame them. It has paid off so far. It might have seemed insane to imagine during the dark crevices of the 2012-13 seasons, but some of the most memorable moments of the past Flames years have come from teenagers. However, in recent history, the Flames have not played a teenaged defenseman the season immediately following his draft, but that might change this year.  

Juuso…Ready?

Conventional hockey wisdom states that defensemen take longer to mature than forwards and taking a look at the list of NHL dmen aged 18 or 19 in their rookie seasons since the year 2000, it becomes clear that playing in the NHL out of junior isn’t exactly common.

Although, it certainly isn’t unheard of. In fact, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, in Valimaki’s exact draft slot at 16th overall, was Jakob Chychrun, who played 68 games and scored 20 points last season (albeit, on a rather dreary Arizona squad).

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Soon after he was drafted, the consensus was that Valimaki would return to Tri-City shortly after Flames main camp, play at the World Juniors, and hopefully improve on his stellar 61 points in 60 games played season from last year. Any real discussion about his time on the Flames roster would surely wait until next September at the earliest. Right? Well, I am increasingly curious if that is the case.

In what has been an arduous summer for the young Finn, Valimaki has played in the World Junior Summer Showcase, Flames development camp, Penticton Young Stars Tournament, Flames training camp, and now Flames preseason. That’s a lot of hockey for anyone, especially for a player who has never played more than 60 games in a single season. Surely, the workload Valimaki has endured has to be considered by Flames decision makers as they decide how the roster will look when the calendar flips to October.

The case for keeping him

June 23, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Juuso Valimaki puts on a team jersey after being selected as the number sixteen overall pick to the Calgary Flames in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Well, first of all, there is currently a spot for him. In theory. As has been well-publicized this offseason, the moment the Flames re-signed Michael Stone the roster was essentially set, save for two, maybe three, spots. One of the spots tentatively available was the third pairing, left-shot defender slot, to be paired with Stone.

Most (rightly) assume, given waiver-eligibility and past track record, that Brett Kulak has a pretty firm grasp on that spot. However, if the Flames are willing to cast off Wotherspoon and Bartkowski to waivers (and then presumably Stockton), they would be able to softly debut Valimaki by interchanging him with Kulak. In this scenario, Valimaki’s workload is tempered and Kulak is still able to earn a spot on the opening day roster. If it becomes apparent that Valimaki can’t hack it, then he heads back to the WHL and everything is as was planned.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Allowing both Kulak and Valimaki to rotate through the third pairing, for the first 15 games of the season or so, would be a way of accurately gauging where Valimaki’s at, and whether or not he would be suitable to play this season given the opportunity available to him. Using a Kulak and Valimaki rotation, to me at least, is a way of not playing Valimaki to death this year, while still earning him valuable NHL practice time, if such a thing exists, and getting him acclimatized to the best league in the world.

Ordinarily, I would think that the thought of Valimaki missing any game action at this stage in his career would seem like extraordinarily stupid asset management, but, given the circumstances of his summer, I wonder if easing him into some NHL game action would actually benefit his development. Provided, of course, that his play doesn’t fall off a cliff in the upcoming preseason games.

There is an angle to this that goes something like: “If he’s good enough, he should play. Who cares about contract status, or age, or anything else?!” It is a somewhat compelling argument for a team that is supposed to be trying to push beyond the first round of the playoffs this year. If Valimaki outplays his competition and gives the Flames a better chance to win than Kulak, Wotherspoon, or Bartkowski, then why shouldn’t they play him?

The case for sending him back

This case is far simpler to make: why rush it? The Flames don’t have a pressing need for another NHL defender, unlike the winger and centre needs that thrust Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, and Matthew Tkachuk into the NHL in years prior. Valimaki, even if he’s a slight upgrade from Kulak or Wotherspoon, will not be an upgrade on Brodie or Giordano, so he likely will play exclusively on the third pairing. Is that worth risking his development for?

It is rare for teenagers to make an impact in the NHL and throwing him into the league when he’s not ready risks stunting his development. Even if he stays up with the Flames, it will likely only be for an audition, so why disrupt his season? Allow Valimaki to return to his WHL club and begin preparations for his season where he’ll be counted on to be a key contributor rather than as a marginal player with the Flames.

On top of all of this, returning him to the CHL removes even the temptation to burn a year of Valimaki’s entry-level contract, something that the Flames have done with Monahan, Bennett, and Tkachuk in recent seasons.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Clearly, returning Valimaki to junior after preseason is the more conventional move and one that I think most Flames fans would at least reluctantly agree with. However, the possibility of seeing how Valimaki fares in the NHL while still being able to protect his development is surely a tempting option for Flames management. If Valimaki’s play continues to be as steady as it has been up to this point in preseason, he is going to make it very difficult for Brad Treliving to banish him to the WHL before opening night.

What do you think? Where should Valimaki be when the season starts? Let me know in the comments!


    • SandyMcCarthey

      Explain how..i look at it as he will stagnate playing in the dub against inferior competition. Why not have him play against the best every night, practice with the best and truly learn the pro game. Get the better off ice conditioning, nutritionists, and get to be in the locker room with grizzled vets like Gio.

      • supra steve

        GG is on record as saying that his #5 (Stone) should log around 20 min per night. After your top 4 get their 22 to 25 min, how much time is left for #6?

        • cjc

          ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Just going by published TOI stats, there wasn’t a single team where the third pair averaged 8 min per night. If Stone is going to get 20 mins, that tells me that Hamilton and Hamonic are going to be closer to 22 than 25 mins – if you want to maintain the L/R shot balance that Gulutzan is also on record liking. Stone did not average 20 min/night last year while on Calgary’s second pairing, so I’m not sure where Gulutzan will find 20 minutes for him on the third.

    • Stu Cazz

      I also thought he was the best player in Penticton. I believe one more year in junior then he plays with the Flames #6D next year 10-15 minutes per game. He will never see the AHL!

  • Cheeky

    They have been patient with development of Kylington, Andersson and even Kulak. Can’t see them rushing this kid and bypassing these lot. Plenty of time for him to develop properly and succeed at NHL. The NHL needs to change rules to allow some of these guys that are too good for junior to play in AHL. Would benefit both leagues.

    • SandyMcCarthey

      Kylington, Kulak, and Andersson are not in the same wheel house as Valimaki. I believe it would benefit the Flames, and Valimaki to give the kid his 9 game window if he continues to earn it. Could be great moving forward this year if he continues to develop and compete at an NHL level. Could give the Flames insurance and the ability to package a deal for to move Stone or possibly Brodie for Duchene or to recoup picks. If the kid is ready, sending him back to the dub is a mistake, he needs to pyt into uncomfortable situations, and what better way to learn to be a pro without the pressures of being the man?

  • Al Rain

    As for not “rushing” Valmaki, I suspect that the optimal development path for different prospects is more nuanced than the clichés suggest. What’s right for Kylington is not necessarily what’s right for Valmaki so the idea that they gave one guy so much time in the minors I don’t think means they’ll give prospects that follow the same amount of time (or any). And, (and I’ve said this a number of times) the team has orders of magnitude more info on what their players’ needs and strenghts are than us fans do.

    I think there’s a lot of merit to the idea of giving him his 9 games with looks on the third pairing. If he is on the cusp, that could be the best development path. And make him more valuable in the case of injuries up top. I think we forget about that because injuries were light last year.

    If he’s ready, he’s ready. I trust Flames management to make the best call on that.

  • BurningSensation

    I still think Valimaki has a non-trivial chance of playing his way on to the team.
    Which is to say I honestly think he goes back to the dub, but if he’s better than Kulak, T-Spoon, and Bartkowski (and I think he’s obviously better than the latter two), I think the Flames might make it happen.

  • Longshot1977

    I’d be interested in seeing Valimaki get a taste of actual NHL play.

    Let’s be honest. Bartkowski has no real future benefit for the Flames, so losing him to waivers wouldn’t hurt anything. It’s becoming quite clear that Wotherspoon’s ceiling is probably #6 on the depth chart, and every team out there has a prospect in a similar situation so there is little threat of a waiver loss there as well.

    Let’s see what the kid can do. He certainly looks close to ready.

    That said, I’d be very hesitant to burn a full year of ELC at this stage in the game. Just a few games to see what he can do and prepare him for the future, then it’s back to the W.

  • Zalapski

    As much as i like thinking about it, he wasn’t that much of a standout during the live stream the other night. He had a couple of funky reads on plays and got half caught. I did see the brain at work with some of the plays and quick thinking. Let’s just hope that the flames fire Bartkowski into the sun and let Kulak and Tspoon be the 6/7 for the season. After watching Bart for the back half of the season last year, I seriously doubt he’s an upgrade and either of them.

      • McRib

        I was for him potentially making the team after a strong Penticton tournament, but I agree he didn’t dominate Monday night. If can’t elevate in the next couple of preseason games and dominant like he did in Penticton send him back to Tri-City’s (who have a very legitimate chance of winning the WHL this season).

    • Skylardog

      On Monday, I was more impress by Ras than by Valimaki. What scares me is that I thought Bart was the best Dman in Edmonton.

      A year in the WHL, World Juniors, and then a few “late in the season games” with the Flames when the WHL season is over for him. That protects both Kulak and Spoon from waivers if we keep both up. I don’t think Spoon will be picked up, but Kulak would be.

  • madjam

    Several options remain .One is a 9 game stint before sending him back to juniors . Another is the 39 game Draisaitl route that loses one year of ELC . but then gets sent back . If he looks like 6th best defenceman and looks and plays well enough i’d be tempted to go the 39 game route and burn one year , as it may also be the best option for players development as it was for Draisaitl in reflection . Being a defenceman it is tougher by numbers (only 6 spots available) to crack lineup and present defence not poor enough for him to overtake present top six I believe . Therefore , it just seems like a matter of time before he gets sent back. When is the question , and also best for the player . .

  • redwhiteblack

    So glad we were able to get him at 16th overall. He seems a lock to be a great player for us. We could have our future #1 #2 in Fox and Valimaki. Kylington/Andersson could be a good #3 #4 pair.

  • Fan the Flames

    Valamaki has a bright future with the Flames. The question is when I think he will end up back in Jr this year with a plan to increase his strength. He will play in the world jrs and then he may have a chance next year to steal a spot .

  • Personally, I don’t think he’s ready. However, I think Flames brass will wanna see him in the first couple of games to see where he’s at developmentally against other NHL teams. So I think we see him play 3-5 games before getting sent back to the dub. On another interesting note: Spotted at my local coop signing up for a membership… Jon Gillies – make of that what you will… wonder if Flames are going to ride 3 goalies again for a bit? *wink wink*

  • Squishin

    The fact that his ELC can slide two years should affect the opinion, I think. Give him his 9 games if he deserves it, then play him in the WHL this year. Then move him up to the AHL for a year, and THEN his ELC will start in 2019-2020, when he ready to play in the NHL as an effective defenceman. Then we can have him for cheap for longer.

    • Off the wall

      Unfortunately for the poor kid I’d have to agree with this post.
      His ELC can slide and he’s not going to be rushed into the lineup. No need for it either.

      I kinda feel bad for Valamaki, he’s so eager to make the club.
      I just hope they don’t hold him back due to his ELC scenario.

  • Just.Visiting

    I think that it’s a no brainer that he goes back to junior unless he is dominant in the rest of camp and significantly better than the competition. In that scenario, he should be test driven at the start of the season to see whether he stays or gets sent back to junior, even though this would risk Wotherspoon or Bart having to clear waivers. (Everyone has players like that. They’ll clear.) If it is obvious that he is a worthy NHL defenceman who can contribute (e.g., the next Doughty), his ability to contribute to the team’s performance means that he should stay. I’m very comfortable with him playing with Stone at this stage of his development, where I would not have said that with Wideman, Engelland, etc.

    The difference between being a true Cup contender and a solid playoff contender isn’t the performance of your OK middle of the road players. It’s having a Matt Murray or someone like that come out of nowhere to elevate your team above the expected.

    It’s the potential upside of a Valimaki, a Jankowski or a Gillies, relative to the safer Kulak, Versteeg or Lack that, in my opinion, will be the difference between having a real window at the Cup over the next few years, vs being a bubble team that may or may not advance past the first round.

  • Skylardog

    While we are all discussing where he should be, unless he shows better in the next 3 games, than he did on Monday, relative to the competition (Kulak, Bart, Ras, Spoon), the conversation is pointless. He was outplayed by Bart and Ras, and may have been equal to Kulak and Spoon at best. We should be taking the best 7 Dmen for the start of the season. He was not in the top 8 on Monday. That leaves no option but WHL.

    Having said that, there are at least 3 more games he will get to play in, maybe 4. He will get his chance to play into a top 7 role.