Photo Credit: Judy Simpson/Tri City Americans

FlamesNation prospect wrap-up: Juuso Valimaki

Given the young defensive quality the Flames have accumulated, it might be a bit shocking to think that their youngest defenceman might be their best.

But it’s certainly believable when you see Juuso Valimaki play. He’s everything you could want in a defensive prospect: strong skater, incredibly smart, NHL-sized (6’2, 205 lbs.), offensively talented, and responsible in his own end. His skill and poise are two major reasons the Flames think he can make the NHL next season.

After being eliminated from the WHL playoffs last night in a 6-5 OT thriller against the Everett Silvertips, he has few other places to go. The kid has been one of the WHL’s most dominant defencemen in his three seasons in the league, so there’s not much left to prove. Given that he’s old enough to join the professional ranks next season, it’s likely that we’ve seen the last of junior Juuso.

So just how good is Valimaki?

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Scouts have been closely watching Valimaki since his days in Finland. His performance in Finland’s U18 Jr B. league saw him finish fifth in defensive scoring and win the Rookie of the Year award despite being 15 years old. The next season, he finished fourth in Finland’s U20 Jr A. league for defensive scoring, younger than those who finished ahead of him. He earned the attention of the Tri-City scouts, who snapped him up with the 14th overall pick in the CHL import draft.

Valimaki’s first season with Tri-City was quietly productive. In what appears to be an emerging theme, Valimaki finished first among rookie defencemen in points per game. He also captained Finland to a U18 World Juniors gold that season, improving on a silver from the year before. His second season in the WHL was more or less like the first: led all first-time defensive draft eligibles in scoring, took a major role on Finland’s international team. Valimaki slipped to the Flames in the first round of the 2017 draft, going 16th overall in a pretty hectic draft.

2017-18 story

Well, more of the same. Valimaki was expected to have another season of strong development in the WHL and lead the Finns to WJC success.

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He was mostly successful in these endeavors, but there were bumps along the way. Valimaki picked up a serious injury sometime around (either before or during) the World Juniors, but either played through it or reinjured it during the tournament (sources and timeline are unclear). Regardless, Valimaki picked up four points in five games, although the Finns were eliminated earlier than most expected.

After the WJC, he missed a few weeks of hockey due to the injury, and certainly came back a little shaky. Despite the rust, Valimaki finished the season hot, picking up 12 points in his last eight regular season games. Despite another minor injury in the playoffs, he finished the postseason with 17 points in 12 games, including a career high four assists last night in game six against Everett. He saved his best for last.

The numbers

GP G A P Primary points 5v5 Points 5v5 Primary points NHLe
WHL 43 14 31 45 31 26 19 24.89

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Other than starting the year off with three points in one game, Valimaki was probably one of the most consistent Flames players. Besides a few weeks in the aftermath of sustaining that injury during (or, again, maybe before) the World Juniors where Valimaki missed nearly a month and a half of WHL action, he rarely wavered from the 23-25 NHLe range. I think he was rushed back from injury, because those few weeks are just so out of sync with the rest of his production throughout the year.

Valimaki also isn’t like a lot of high scoring defenceman in that he doesn’t rely on powerplay production to boost his numbers. At 5v5, he led WHL defencemen in points per game and primary points per game, which is pretty impressive. It’s wild to think what he could’ve done had he been healthy all year round.

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Methodology explained here. Valimaki’s full data can be found here.

The weird thing about Valimaki is that his season isn’t actually all that special given the range of 18-year-old seasons in the WHL. Only 38% of players with similar AS scoring numbers went onto play 200 games in the NHL, scoring at a 0.35 PPG rate. Of similar 5v5 producers, only 16.67% went onto 200 games, scoring around 0.44 PPG. Players who matched Valimaki’s production in both categories only went on to the league 20% of the time, scoring at 0.44 PPG.

Those numbers are down hard from his draft season comparables, which saw comparable players go on to make the NHL 85.71% (AS) and 62.5% (5v5) but at slightly similar scoring rates (0.35 for both AS and 5v5). Overlap between the two categories saw 80% of players go on to make the NHL. Safe to say that it is a dramatic decrease.

I think the drop likely has to do with the increased noise (i.e. defencemen who were buried at age 17 getting opportunities at age 18), proximity (seven players – Derrick Pouliot, Joe Morrow, Josh Morrissey, Ryan Pulock, Ivan Provorov, Shea Theodore, and Travis Sanheim – are all recent draftees and five are likely to hit 200 games next season. Including those five would boost Valimaki’s numbers above 50%) and Valimaki’s injury. What’s really interesting are the players Valimaki matches with over different seasons.

Finding extremely similar players for Valimaki is tough, but there are a few. Of the four players who matched Valimaki in three categories, all four of them played over 300 NHL games and scored an average of 0.4 PPG. His even stronger comparables, players who matched him in four categories, are even more impressive. The two strongest comparables are Ivan Provorov and Dan Hamhuis. One was one of the NHL’s best defencemen at his peak and the other is already a full-timer despite having turned 21 in January. That’s nothing but good news.

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Probability isn’t destiny, but you have to love what you see from Valimaki. He is not only a very safe bet to make the league, but also to thrive in it early.

The future

Now for the million dollar question: can Valimaki be in the NHL next year?

From the outset, it’s certainly possible. Valimaki seems poised enough to jump into the NHL without being intimidated by the big show. From what you see in junior, there’s no real part of his game that needs major tweaking. If he’s like his cohorts, it’s more believable. Provorov jumped immediately to the NHL and is now an important piece of the Philly blueline. Other ones like Hamhuis didn’t go straight to the NHL, but didn’t spend that much time in the AHL. Valimaki could be in Calgary sooner rather than later.

But there’s going to be some fierce competition. If there is an LHD spot available at training camp, he will have to fight off Oliver Kylington for it, and that’s a tough task. I don’t doubt that Valimaki is talented enough to win that spot, but it might just be that Kylington is a bit more pro seasoned. Starting in the AHL isn’t a bad thing. His contract can slide for one more year, which is something that could weigh heavily in the decision process.

If that is not convincing, consider this: It would be very funny if the Flames graduated Valimaki to the pros before the Canucks could get Olli Juolevi an NHL game. That would be very funny and it’s the outcome I’m cheering for.

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Nick Schneider | Adam Ruzicka | Matthew Phillips | D’Artagnan Joly | Glenn Gawdin | Zach Fischer | Dillon Dube | Filip Sveningsson | Eetu Tuulola | Adam Fox | Linus Lindstrom | Pavel Karnaukhov & Rushan Rafikov

  • Burnward

    Great article on my favourite prospect.

    You talked about it and it’s hard to quantify, but I really believe in his hockey IQ. He has the ability to hover, read a play and all of a sudden he’s there making something happen. This, more than anything, is why I believe he can make the jump next season and make a positive impact.

    He’s also a prick on the ice, which I love. Got some of that Doughty run that show in him. Great fit for this team and should be our best drafted defenseman since Suter.

    • Hockeysense9393

      Doughty?? Good comparison. Hate the guy…but who wouldn’t want him running your defence core for 27+ minutes a night? Early for that…but what a trajectory. Another captain for his peers? This is yet another type of player that the Flames need for attitude.

  • Baalzamon

    It’s also interesting to compare Valimaki to someone closer to home: Rasmus Andersson. On the surface, very similar numbers (though Andersson was in a tougher league and played for a much better team). But dig down? Valimaki had 0.7 primary pts/g last season. Andersson had 0.45 at the same age.

    People are right to be excited about Juice.

          • Jumping Jack Flash

            I am a big fan of Ras but I believe he needs to improve his explosiveness this summer. Once he does, I think he can be our best all around defender….reminds me of a young Gio but can shoot the puck at 105 mph and make as good of tape to tape stretch passes that I have seen.

            Jusso seems intriguing but I have never noticed any flash or elite skating ability. I must admit that I followed his progress in the playoffs and he seemed to play second fiddle to Jake Bean when it came to generating offence until these last few games where Jusso was playing his best hockey. Toronto has tried to convince everyone that Liligren was a better selection but I believe they are starting to believe Valimaki will be a special player.

            I do believe both Ras and Jusso have a greater ceiling than Kulak, Stone, and Brodie. I hope training camp provides a platform for these players to knock off our vets.

          • Baalzamon

            Liljegren is a fine prospect, but he’s literally exactly what Oliver Kylington was two years ago (except right-handed). It amazes me how few people have realized that.

            A lot of people forget how good a prospect Kylington is just because of how good his peers are (Andersson, Valimaki, Fox). In any other system he’d be the best or second best prospect at his position. In Calgary he’s fourth.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I’d rather see him cut his teeth in the AHL next season than here unless he is ready to take on second pairing minutes. The club should promote OK ahead of him and Spooner either has to be in Calgary next season or in a new organization, for he has been in the system for how long and we still don’t know if he is NHL caliber or not, and if he is, where does he top out? Spoon needs NHL time far more than the Finn does unless the Finn is truly a prodigy who is ready to make an immediate impact in the NHL. As well as using the clubs defensive depth for trades, it can also be used to ensure promising prospects are not tossed into the NHL before they are ready.

    • deantheraven

      Right, Nige. Everybody around here seems to be looking past Wotherspoon. It’s in the org’s best interest to get him to the NHL- either here or by trading for something in a package. Other GM’s can see the log-jam. Hopefully the Flames can get a decent return on their investment if he doesn’t fit here.

      • PrairieStew

        I think Wotherspoon will be looking elsewhere, and that will be his decision not necessarily the team’s . Unless Bill Peters reaches out to him – he may know him from WHL circles ( though Bill had left WHL by the time Tyler played in Portland). If the Flames move Brodie at the draft – and offer Wotherspoon a one way – then he might stay.

        • Baalzamon

          Wotherspoon is exactly what you want in a bottom two D too. He’s unexciting (and a bit slow), but when he draws in he’ll give you ~17-18 minutes where you don’t have to worry about much.

        • heatfan1

          I believed t spoon averaged over 25 minutes a game in Stockton but he is a Ufa I also believe 25 minutes a game was the most of any Stockton player from what I can fine

  • deantheraven

    His numbers are undeniably impressive but that whole “slide year” thing may be the most important factor, considering the upcoming Seattle draft. His status at that time will be most important.

    • Off the wall

      Correct me if I’m wrong Dean, but for expansion purposes, wouldn’t Valamaki be exempt if he plays less than 70 games in his 2nd year under contract?

        • Mickey O

          I think a team has to expose someone who’s played a certain number of games in the NHL the year before, or within 2 years. First and second year pros were exempt. I wouldn’t bury a guy in the minors just because you are worried about an expansion draft. If he can play, get use out of his ELC and worry about the draft later.

          It is a long way down the road, but Hamilton, Valimaki, Andersson figure to be the 3 the team protects. Treliving might have to blow a draft pick this time around if he really wants to keep anyone else.

          • Jumping Jack Flash

            Boston seems to have one of the best models out there and the have had great success moving defenders like MacAvoy and Carlo into the NHL without much AHL seasoning. Debrusk played a full season in the AHL last year without getting a call up, however they made it really clear that there was a spot on the top 9 for him to win. So even, Boston’s model is subject to change depending on the player. The biggest difference is Boston brings up players to succeed.

  • Off the wall

    I believe a lot will be determined by what happens with Brodie and Stone.

    Wasn’t Kylington touted as the next Brodie? Andersson should make the club next season.

    If Brodie is moved, who takes his spot? Kylington or Valamaki?

    I can’t believe the Tri- City Americans didn’t go all the way this year..

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      You really should win a game that your leading 5-2 midway through the 3rd period. You should also win a game when you can get 5 goals behind Hart.

  • moodyblue2

    If TJ has another year like last, we will get nothing for him. Probably best to trade if the price is right. If not switch him to his proper side and hope for the best!

  • Mickey O

    Valimaki is the real deal, there is nothing he urgently needs to work on in the minors. Andersson was out of shape and thought he could just dog it to the NHL on raw talent alone. But both guys have that cocky FIGJAM factor, they know they belong in the bigs. Kulak is just happy to have made it.

    Giordano – Hamilton
    Valimaki – Hamonic
    Kulak – Andersson

    If Peters thinks he’s ready, then he’s unlikely to see the minors at all. Hamonic would be a perfect mentor for him. Brodie and Hamonic didn’t work, can’t see why Valimaki and Hamonic won’t.

    The Flames were targeting Valimaki all along at the draft (so glad that Tampa took Cal Foote a couple of spots before, he’s pretty slow of foot and figures to be a clone of his father when all is said and done), he was a steal at 16.

    The floor is four for Valimaki / the ceiling is a bona-fide first pairing defenceman who can do it all. No way anyone should be betting against this guy.

    • Off the wall

      I like your defensive pairings Mickey. If Valamaki makes it this season, I’d love to see this.
      No question about Valamaki’s hockey IQ . At least we wouldn’t be as exposed as we were with Brodie and his mental gaffes..

      • Mickey O

        Brodie still has very high value to another team who needs an upgrade on defence. But Valimaki is a better all around option and needs to be in the NHL as soon as possible in my opinion. Charlie McAvoy and Provorov made the jump right away, can’t see why Valimaki can’t either.

        Provorov is already the Flyers’ best defenceman only 2 years into the league. Gostisbhere gets first unit PP time, but Provorov is just as capable, and a better defender. Valimaki looks to be in a similar mode to Provorov.

          • Mickey O

            Wotherspoon can walk, but as other have mentioned he might not get a better deal. Pulling a Bart on the bench as a designated sitter for minimum wage in the NHL is hardly a tough way to make a living. Kylington is still very young, let him be the man down in Stockton next year.

            A team still needs depth, especially on defence. That was part of the reason Stone was signed, but I highly doubt he finishes his contract here. The Flames got really lucky with non-injuries to the d-men last year.

    • Who is Alberta’s team?

      As an oiler fan I agree. Hamonic would be a great mentor for Valimaki lol Show him how you can be a leagues worse +- for 3 years running and still demand trades. I love this idea.

  • Mickey O

    Completely off topic, but some more info. on Ryan O’Reilly. The one video posted April 9th, where he questioned his desire to play, and for not so subtly calling out the whole Sabres organization, is pretty well know. But there’s a second video that was posted the next day by the same news outfit. He’d toned it down talking to reporters, but what he was wearing caught my attention.

    He’s donning a blacked out Blue Jays hat with a bright red maple leaf on it! No way that is an accident, and it was carefully picked. It screams get me outta here, and back home to Canada where I can reset my passion for the game, and resume my career.

          • Mickey O

            A: Monahan – O’Reilly – Jankowski
            B: Monahan – Jankowski – Backlund

            That really shouldn’t be a tough decision down the middle. The consensus around the league, and Calgary in particular, was Backlund’s deal was great on the dollars, but too long. You don’t have to worry about term if he’s off the team…

        • The Beej

          I think the Oreilly thing was pretty overblown. He doesnt like losing and i think it is only natural for players that have no playoff hope 30 games into a season to feel a bit dejected and lose some desire.

          He wasnt really critical of his teammates. He criticized the overall team culture.

          And he has a point. Buffalo has to be careful to make sure they dont allow themselves to become the next Edmonton.

    • Kevin R

      Hopefully there will be some extra interaction & observation when BP coaches him at the Worlds. That intel is going to Tre & will likely determine our pursuit of him. I always thought our centre position was one of our stronger points but in reality, shoring up that position will have a bigger impact on our scoring than getting a RW. We have limited assets to get this right.
      Some think offering Bennett & Fox to Canadians to get that #3 pick might make sense to both because Montreal need an NHL ready centre & that doesn’t exist in this years draft. They need a high end D after they traded Sergachev. I kind of wanted to see Bennett under a new coach & try to see if BP can get the light on in Bennetts game. I get the desire to get Brady Tkachuk but I seriously doubt the kid would crack the Flames lineup like Matt did & we may not see him for 2-3 years. We need something now. RoR fits our window. With Peters as coach, I have no problem seeing our experienced D be built around Hamilton Hamonic & Gio with Valimaki & Anderson & Kulak sprinkled in there. Youth & experience.

      I know the sexy choice is go all out for Tavares but I don’t know why, but the situation reminds me so much of the Brad Richards scenario Feaster & King went all out on & how long after were Rangers buying that contract out. RoR has 5 years left, is 27, no wonder the guy wants to go somewhere where he can win. Not sure what it would take to get him, hearing Buffalo as one of the teams likely willing to back the big truck of money to try & sign Carlsson from Washington. Brodie could be a good consolation prize + something else if we want to get Buffalo to eat some salary.

  • Rudy27

    I don’t see any issue with starting him in Stockton. It will give him a taste of pro hockey and perhaps a leadership role on defense with plenty of PP time. Easy to pull him up to the big team if anyone falters or gets injured. In the meantime, I would like to see what we have in Kylington at the NHL level.

  • MWflames

    BT will manage his off-season with valamaki pencilled in for Stockton. He’s not trading Brodie this summer unless there’s a great offer on the table. More likely he looks at trading stone and penciling Andersson in. I like the idea of Brodie Andersson and kulak hamonic.

  • redwhiteblack

    Fox likely goes back to Harvard. An Ivy League education is a very good thing to have. He could be on the Flames roster in 2019. What if Andersson, Valimaki and Kylington also on the roster. Is there room for Fox? Does this present a risk that Fox looks elsewhere? Or entice him to be part of the new fold of young D? A good problem to have but one the Flames need to be thinking about right now.

    I am all for seeing what TJ can do next year. Maybe he can rebound. Dude can skate. But there is the potential log jam just one year away.

    • Mickey O

      Fox to Buffalo in any O’Reilly deal. A RHS to play on the same team with LHS Dahlin. Buffalo knows they won’t be competing right away, so they can wait a bit. He’s a New York kid, and will have crossed paths with Eichel. Calgary isn’t going to have room for him like you say. He’s a big trading chip. Kylington is also a chip who is going to have a tough time making this team.

      The Flames also need to address their toughness. Since Engelland left they don’t have a really big, designated hitter for when things get out of control and a message needs to be sent. Ideally that is a 3rd pairing d-man, or a 4th liner who can play.

      Pittsburgh blew their first round pick to get forward Ryan Reaves and then changed course and picked up 6’7 defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. The Flames need a guy like that, so yep, Calgary’s defence could be in for a massive overhaul.