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Photo Credit: Judy Simpson/Tri City Americans

Juuso Valimaki is ready for pro hockey

Juuso Valimaki is a very focused young man. Just 19 years of age, he’s already represented his country at several major international competitions, moved halfway across the world to pursue his dreams of stardom, been an All-Star in a highly-regarded junior league, and been drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft.

Listening to the 16th overall pick from the 2017 NHL Draft speak at Calgary Flames development camp, you get the sense that he’s just warming up.

Valimaki came over to North America as 16-year-old after being selected by the Tri-City Americans in the 2015 CHL Import Draft. He’s played three seasons in the WHL: one half-a-point per game rookie campaign and two subsequent seasons where he scored over a point per game. He’s a defenseman. His offensive production propelled him to First Team Western Conference All-Star honours in 2016-17 and 2017-18. He represented Finland at the last two World Juniors, most recently as captain.

It’s probably safe to say that his time in junior is behind him, and he’s focused on making the best first impression he can in pro hockey.

“Obviously every day is important,” said Valimaki. “Here at the camp and once I go back, obviously training will be a big part of my everyday and just gotta do everything I can to be as good as I can be in September and fighting for a spot.”

Valimaki is in a unique position. He’s filled out physically from his draft year, adding some muscle (he’s thicker now) and rounding out his game. He turns 20 during the first week of October, so he’s both eligible for the American Hockey League and in a position where his NHL contract will “slide” for a season if he doesn’t play 10 big league games.

In addition to the contractual reasons for letting him simmer in Stockton for the season, the Flames have also stocked up on veterans at the NHL and AHL levels. The left side of the NHL defensive group seems set with Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin and Brett Kulak (and TJ Brodie can play there, too), while Oliver Kylington has been rounding out his game and seems likely to factor into any discussions about call-ups.

The only defenseman from Valimaki’s draft class to play NHL games so far is Sebastian Aho (the Swedish one), an overage pick who debuted with the New York Islanders a month before his 22nd birthday. Defensemen tend to take longer to mature.

The Flames have many NHL bodies and some contractual incentives to let him gain valuable AHL experience this season. Valimaki is aware of all this, but remains focused on making the best possible impression in training camp.

“I’ve kinda tried to learn to do everything I can and see where it takes me,” said Valimaki. “That’s kinda my mindset now. I’m just gonna do everything I can and see what happens, but obviously my goal is to play with the big club.”

If nothing else, he’s going to make main camp very competitive and management’s decisions very difficult.

  • brodiegio4life

    and so is rasmus, and kylington soon too. Treliving has to get rid of stone he’s literally blocking our young guys from making the show, and he’s making our team worse.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    Nothing wrong with a year in the AHL to understand how to play stronger and quicker. I’d expect we will see a couple of cameo appearances this year to give him a taste and a full shot next year. I have to believe that next summer we’ll be talking about which LHD has to be moved as there is too big a log jam. My guess would be Kulak or Kylington as Gio and Hanifin won’t be going anywhere. If I had to narrow it down it will be Kylington as Kulak might only be the 7th best D on this team next year and may just sit in that spot.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      The kid apparently didn’t do well in several interviews, which caused several GMs to wonder if he had “character” issues. I’m never sure how much stock should be put in those interviews, but some GMs tilt heavily toward them.

      • freethe flames

        I wonder sometimes if the interviews with ELL sometimes get lost in translation. Having taught a lot of ELL kids they sometimes don’t get the nuances of the language and their responses definitely are not reflective of their views.

        • DoooieStevens

          Or you get a couple crusty old Burke types that do not understand flamboyance, new age kids. Imagine Ovi’s interviews? Too many old boys club types.

    • cjc

      Not really. Foote has put up equally good numbers, Heiskanen and Brannstrom are already playing pro and Makar is in the NCAA, a tougher league than the WHL. That’s not to rain on Valimaki, only that it’s too early to judge where he sits.

    • DoooieStevens

      Not really. Take the rose colored glasses of Willy! Re reading the first round picks, Timothy Liljgren who went one spot after Valimakki, is the only real player who dropped. Very deep draft last year.

      • Baalzamon

        Valimaki is better than Liljegren. Liljegren is just Kylington two years in the past, and Valimaki is universally considered a better prospect than Kylington so…

          • Baalzamon

            You think a third pair defenseman on the Silver medal-winning team looked better than the #1 defenseman on a team that lost in the quarter finals?

            Liljegren had more help and did less (2 points in 7 games compared to 4 in 5 for Valimaki).

          • DoooieStevens

            Points are not everything, but yes I do. More importantly, of those taken before Valimakki, who would you swap him with? I will agree I was happy he was still there when the Flames selected him, would have been happier with Liljgren.

  • freethe flames

    A year in the AHL will be good for him and very good for the Flames. The fact of the matter is having his contract slide the one year would help the team significantly s TJ contract will be up in 2 years. That being said I would not have a problem with him seeing some NHL time this year if he earns it. This team has lots of potential on the LHS of the D; Gio(when does he start the decline?), Hanifin(how good can this kid be?), Kulak(a steady solid NHL career ahead of him), Kylington(has he matured enough to live up to his potential), and Valimaki (this kid could be better than any of the other young guys).

      • wot96

        This is ridiculous. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard but Sidney Crosby is a very hard worker.

        If what you mean is 21 highly talented loafers would be rubbing elbows with the sens, fine.

      • supra steve

        Yeah, cause it would be terrible to have 2 or 3 extra high end young D men, one or 2 of which could be used to trade for a high end winger like Mark Stone. The team would really be in bad shape if that were the case.

        • BlueMoonNigel

          Sens have the best defenceman on the planet and they are talking about a 70 cents on the dollar return. Canadiens dealt uber Norris candidate PK Subban for a very old, oft injured man with a terrible contract. Treliving had Dougie freaking Hamilton to trade and ended up botching it as he badly overpaid.

          It’s great to have highly-sought after pieces to trade but trading them for equal or better value is not as easy as it sounds.

          • supra steve

            Wow, that’s as dumb an argument as I’ve ever heard at FN. “I wouldn’t want those valuable assets, cause my GM would probably f$#& it up and get a sub-optimal return.”

            The same Canadiens traded Sergachev for Drouin. Now you can argue that they should have got more (and I’m sure you would, because that’s why you come here), but the Habs did get a very desirable/offensively dynamic young winger, for a high end young D-man. That was the point I made…those assets can be moved to fill other needs, and thus, having more than one would be a good thing.

  • Baalzamon

    Unfortunately there’s another factor working against Valimaki: the expansion draft. He’s exempt if his contract slides, and you can bet the Flames know that. If the Flames leave him in the AHL this coming season they basically get to protect a fourth defenseman for free in 2020.

    Right or wrong, that’s going to be a factor not only on whether he makes the team, but also where he is in the callup order.

    • freethe flames

      Clubs need to do what clubs need to do. The point is that when the expansion comes up don’t lose 2 good players trying to protect one slightly better player.

      • Baalzamon

        Your second sentence there is the mistake Minnesota, Florida, and Anaheim made (though Anaheim arguably had no choice). The funniest part, especially with regard to Florida, was that the players they handed to Vegas were better than the one they were trying so hard to protect.

    • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

      This is a great point. So if you are the Flames and you are headed toward the expansion draft with Gio, Hanifin, Kulak, Andersson, Valimaki, Kylington who would you protect. I left off Brodie and Hamonic as they will be UFA. I’m assuming because of our youth at forward we would want to protect 7-3-1. At that point I think Gio would be left unprotected leaving us to choose 3 of the remaining 5 to protect. You might feel safe leaving Kulak to chance, but at this point I wouldn’t want to lose any of the others for nothing. So I think this reinforces my point above that we need to think about moving someone before then and it is likely Kylington.

    • Bawcos

      AGREE! , And I hope they do think that far ahead.

      Also, can we not all agree that Valimaki is an awesome prospect at this point. No matter who was taken in that draft.

    • RealMcHockeyReturns

      Absolutely. Flames give gim 4-5 games at beginning or end of year or both, save money, ans he slides into protected status when The Seattle Grinders (get it, coffee and hockey reference) pick for expansion draft

  • Honkydonk

    Gio is 34 and has four years left on his deal. That means a minimum of 3 years with the flames. They hope Hanifin becomes a first pairing guy with Valimaki sliding into the second line role.

    Anderson, Valimaki, Kylington all three these guys will be flames players. The question is who slides out?

    I think this is the year of the Brodie reclamation and same goes for Hamonic. They don’t reach their potential moves will be made and rightfully so.

    • Luter 1

      Agree them two have lots to prove, otherwise first chance, dump one and go with the youth. Both are way overpaid for their last years performance and declined. Kulak makes $700G and outplayed both of them and is still improving

  • Styxx

    Great to see the Defensive depth …hopefully we can draft & develop a couple elite forwards.

    Would be nice to get into the position where we trade away 1 higher-end player (replacing with a drafted player) for a 1st or couple 2nds each year to refresh our pipeline…eg like Anaheim did for a few years

  • Fan the Flames

    Really looking forward to seeing this kid in preseason . With the move to the speed game Valamaki has all of the necessary attributes to be a force .

  • Off the wall

    Good morning FN. it’s Friday.
    Story time…

    It appears that I’m a goof. Don’t all applaud at once. I can’t read without my glasses on, so instead I’ve been cheating by putting in one contact lense and leaving one eye ( without a lense) for reading. Yes, it sounds exactly what it is. Stupid!

    Well it turns out I went to work for a few days without either contact lense in. Because I’m so accustomed to good vision in one eye, I didn’t even notice.
    How on earth do you not notice your vision being worse? Good question. It’s something I asked myself repeatedly, but I believe it stems from getting accustomed to not seeing everything as clearly as I should.

    We have prospects, that we’re all hopeful for. Valamaki, Andersson, Kylington, Dube, Phillips, Mangiapane, Foo, Gawdin, etc. It’s a pretty decent lineup of players.

    But if you’re like me, you think you’ve got this all figured out…timelines as to when they’ll fit in the lineup, what the ceiling is for these players and how to make the best decisions for upcoming expansion.

    That’s great, however we really don’t know and herein lies the problem. It’s one thing to believe that our prospects will eventually make the show. But as we’ve learned from watching previous developmental curves,
    some just don’t have the ability to reach the next level. Whether it’s being mentally tough or something affecting their personal life or even injuries.

    I personally don’t believe Valamaki will have any of these problems and would love to see him make the lineup. But that’s me with my one contact lense in, not really seeing everything else that completes the picture.

    I can’t for the life of me figure out how I managed to drive back and forth from work (for two days) without even noticing how the scenery around me was fading faster.
    Maybe I’m just going to leave it at that…

    • DoooieStevens

      Otw..you sir are my favorite poster! Make me giggle usually, you’re like a quirky grandpa with odd but useful wisdom that comes with a whimsical story! Keep on keeping on chief!

    • Kevin R

      @OTW You know I was looking at our team & yakking with a fellow Flame fanatic buddy & talking whats left to do. Besides getting these kids resigned & we both hope we spend the extra $$$ & get both hanafin & Lindholm locked into at least 6 year deals as close to 5.0 mill each as possible. Then, Tre really needs to shed two players & we discussed what it would take to do that. Obviously one is Stone & the question will be do you keep him longer to try maximizing return or move him sooner. Probably makes sense to wait for the fiasco deals of Karlsson & Faulk to get nailed down & then you have a bit better bargaining position. It’s Brouwer that is the issue. Last thing we want is that buyout penalty for the next 4 years. But I just dont see where he fits. I’m having a hard time fitting Frolik in the top 9. Our D is interesting.

      Lets assume we want to keep both Hamonic & Brodie for their remaining 2 years, Gio is going nowhere, Hanafin is freshly inked & Kulak has been a nice surprise & has earned his spot in that bottom pairing. Have heard that Tre is pretty keen on Prout & sees him as being our much younger version of Engellend & will be perfect in that #7 slot. Soo we have Valamaki & Andersson who are our best 2 home grown young high ceiling guys & they are both pretty darn close. In fact, I honestly cant see how Andersson doesnt get a spot this year. We got Hogstrom recently signed for the AHL. Montreal is in rebuild now. They just cant deny it & they will be looking for young players & they have a desperate need for a well developed young D. What if we packaged Kylington with Brouwer for Montreals 2019 3rd & 2020 3rd.
      They get a decent D prospect that is already well developed & looking at their lineup, a functional 3rd line RW who can play #1 C for them (LOL justing kidding on that crack) I think that’s what it’s going to take getting rid of Brouwer without eating salary.

      • supra steve

        If the Flames needed the cap space, this may be a good option.
        I’m just not entirely sure they need that cap space though. If that is indeed the case, then you just keep your young asset (Killington) and ride out the next season of Brouwer’s deal, and have him in and out of the lineup as his play dictates.

    • Redleader

      My turn : story time : once upon a time I went to a golf charity at sutter club in red deer , I was outside when Jerome Iginla shiwned up in a green Porsche (which I touched lol). I was overly excited went up to Iggy and said ” you used to be my favourite player !!!” . It was not what I meant,only that there were finally more players besides him that I liked. He was like” oooooookkkkk”. I was horrified by what I accidentally said . But I did motivate him because he won the rocket Richard the next season ,stapling himself as my favourite player …..again .. hey Iggy if your out there that’s not what I meant lololoool

        • Off the wall

          Good story Carl.?

          Rule #1, don’t touch a players car, especially a Porsche.

          Rule #2, think before speaking.
          Players want to be treated like a regular person, believe it or not.
          I’ve met several NHL players and because I’m not ‘star struck’, we actually had great conversations.

          I’m glad you made Iginla into a Rocket Richard winner. He was probably miffed at your compliment and decided to make you ‘eat your words’.

          Could you have a chat with Brouwer for us? Thanks pal!

      • FL?MES

        Damn Oilcan, I had a couple of wobbly pops and had to read your post 3 times to figure it out. Thank goodness you didn’t through a bunch of stats at me today.

        If I keep commenting on my comments you’ll know I had too many.

        Go ? Go!!

        • DoooieStevens

          Haha..that is true, although drafting better than Edmonton doesnt aut much. I bet Maggie the monkey my favorite TSN personality could have drafted better.

        • freethe flames

          It might only take two more years and his numbers might be better than the guy who went first overall. I wonder who BP is going to partner him with?

          • freethe flames

            I was looking back to 2012 Draft b/c of this conversation and just looked at the forwards in the first round; 4 forwards really stand out Forsberg, Hertl, Galchenyuk and Teraveainian all of whom went before Janko. There are some other good ones but if Janko builds on what he did last year his counting numbers could catch some of these guys in a couple years. Looking back the real problem might be what we did with the second rounder we got for moving down; one always has to wonder what if Sieloff never gets so sick.

  • JMK

    Anyone got any reports on Development camp?? Fitness testing results or reviews on the initial skills development performances. I suppose it’s a bit early yet but I’m bored at work 😛

  • Sven

    Happy Stampede

    I wonder if Johnny G’s contract prohibited him from wearing cowboy boots in todays parade

    Lazars contract – surprisingly doesnt seem to have the same clause

    😉

    • Al Rain

      The stars get the perks.

      If the team was serious about signing him to his next UFA contract they’d give him a bye for that whole sordid and disgusting mess. Each Stampede event he’s forced to attend inches him closer to signing out east, if it’s not too late already.

      • The GREAT WW

        Yet Johnny flew his dad, his brother and his brothers buddies out to enjoy the Stampede this year, even though he just bought a new mansion on the water in Jersey……..

        He must really hate the Stampede…..

        WW

        • BringtheFire 2.0

          Nah. I used to think that stuff too. But there’s no way Johnny can look at all the moves Brad has made this off season and not believe.

          I think what The GREAT WW said about Johnny’s family being flown out is Johnny showing he’s invested in the team and the city.

          Go Flames!

  • WillyWonka

    Valamaki…
    If he makes it to the NHL this seaosn, it is because he comes into camps and blows the doors off, and rips the pot out of an NHL’ers cold dead hands, so more power to him. For him to edge out Rassmuss would really take a miraculous showing. as good as he is, i m betting he starts the season on the 2nd pairing in the AHL

  • WidemansAnger

    Leave him the AHL for a year, we don’t need another Sam Bennett… the team is not desperate for defencemen. Stone is a decent enough bottom 6 option, don’t forget about injuries!?!? What happens if someone gets hurt if you flip Stone then your are acually not as deep as you think if you have one or two injuries… have patience and let him simmer in the AHL like Ras, and when his time comes you have a great prospect itching to make a difference. I think the team will be focused on “culture” with the new coach and players to ensure they bring the prospects into a healthy room.