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Juuso Valimaki presents intriguing options this season

Juuso Valimaki is knocking on the door. Calgary’s 2017 first round pick has generated a lot of buzz over the last few months, stoked most recently by his performance at development camp. Entering his 20-year-old season, it’s almost certain Valimaki will play professionally, whether it be in the NHL, AHL, or both. Where he plays, and for how long, presents the Flames with three options, all of them good.

HE MAKES THE TEAM OUT OF CAMP

If you ask Valimaki, this is the only option he’s looking at.

“It’s pretty bright in my mind that I want to take a spot with the big club, so that’s kind of all I’m focused on,” Valimaki told me at development camp.

“No going back to junior anymore. That’s the plan, to play some NHL games. We’ll see how many that will be but obviously even if I get sent down (to the AHL) that won’t be the last decision of the year. I’m just more focused on doing my work and doing everything I can every day to prove that I’m ready for the NHL.”

Those are words Flames fans want to hear from a highly touted prospect, and the opportunity is there to make it a reality. Most importantly, there’s a conceivable spot open on Calgary’s blueline, because the third pairing is anything but set in stone.

The Flames went with Brett Kulak on the left side of their third pairing for most of last season, and he did a nice job. However, if Valimaki proves in training camp and the preseason he’s ready for prime time, and demonstrates he’s an upgrade on Kulak, Calgary won’t hesitate plugging him into an opening day spot.

It’s an interesting possibility to consider, especially with Rasmus Andersson conceivably pushing Michael Stone on the right side of that same pairing. If earned on merit, what Flames fan wouldn’t be jacked to see a Valimaki-Andersson duo, both now and going forward?

There’s really no downside to Valimaki making the team out of camp. It means the organization’s top prospect is ready to start contributing, it adds additional blueline depth at the NHL level, and comes at an entry-level salary. Turning 20 in October, Valimaki would join names like Aaron Ekblad, Olli Maatta, and Brandon Carlo as defencemen to make the NHL at such a young age.

HE MAKES THE TEAM LATER IN THE SEASON

As exciting as seeing Valimaki in a Flames jersey starting in October would be, it’s just as realistic he starts his professional career with the AHL’s Stockton Heat. And, if that’s the case, Valimaki’s first recall could be his only one, similar to the early stages of TJ Brodie’s career.

Brodie’s first NHL season was 2011-12, but he didn’t start that year with the big team. Instead, Brodie was one of Calgary’s earliest AHL assignments and started the year in Abbotsford before getting recalled early in November. He’s never looked back since, which is a plausible trajectory for Valimaki.

There’s nothing negative in this scenario, either. Starting the season with Stockton would give Valimaki time to adjust to pro hockey in a less pressure-packed environment. It would also likely mean the Flames are confident in their NHL blueline to start the season and thus comfortable in slow playing Valimaki.

Once they feel Valimaki is ready for the jump, and the opportunity arises, Calgary can make the promotion while still getting all the same benefits presented in the first scenario.

HE SPENDS ALL YEAR IN STOCKTON

This might be the least exciting scenario, but it presents significant benefits for the Flames, specifically from a cap perspective. If Valimaki spends all year, or most of it, in the American League, he’ll qualify for an entry-level slide thanks to meeting the following conditions:

  • Birthdate between Sept. 15 and Dec. 31
  • Sign entry level contract prior to Dec. 31 of draft year
  • Play fewer than 10 NHL games in each of the two seasons following signing entry-level contract

Because he was born on Oct. 6 and signed an entry-level deal a month after being drafted, Valimaki automatically qualifies for the first two bullet points. If he plays nine games or fewer in the NHL this season, he’ll also qualify for number three; Valimaki spent all of 2017-18 with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans.

Essentially, the Flames have the option to get a free development year out of Valimaki in this scenario. If he plays fewer than 10 NHL games, year one of his entry-level contract won’t start until October 2019, giving the team four pro years for the price of three.

The benefit to this is delaying when Valimaki would become eligible for a second contract. If things pan out the way everyone hopes, we’d be talking about a significant raise once his ELC expires. Knowing how Calgary’s cap situation projects, pushing another big raise for a year is a nice option to keep in the back pocket.

That said, there’s no reason to force this. If Valimaki truly needs the year to develop in Stockton, then by all means take full advantage of the bonus. But if he’s ready to play, and makes the NHL team better, Valimaki should be playing with the Flames.

  • FLT

    “If earned on merit, what Flames fan wouldn’t be jacked to see a Valimaki-Andersson duo, both now and going forward?”

    100% this. If those two legit beat out Stone and Kulak, the Flames not only have an improved 3rd pairing, but one with through the roof potential. That’s exciting depth.

    • brodiegio4life

      that would be outstanding to see, unfortunately the old “earned never given” never seems to be the actual case. Don’t see anyway stone isn’t in the starting lineup come October

  • Burnward

    Unless you’re in your 40’s Flames fans have no frame of reference for a defensive prospect as good as Valimaki.

    We’re talking Provorov, Sergachev, McAvoy ability here.

    He’s not behind Kulak, Andersson or any of the other kids.

    • brodiegio4life

      his progression is very similar to Provorov, who put up 30pts in the NHL in his draft year +2. No doubt in my mind Valimaki could put up those numbers as well if given the opportunity.

    • LannyMac

      Unproven ability. The players you mentioned above all have played in the NHL. All speculation my friend. If he posts the same numbers and ability early in his career I will eat my post, until then pure speculation.

    • Bawcos

      “Unless you’re in your 40’s Flames fans have no frame of reference for a defensive prospect as good as Valimaki.”
      Game has changed a lot in the last 10 years.
      Though, I do agree he is very promising.

  • Brian McGrattan's Salute

    “Most importantly, there’s a conceivable spot open on Calgary’s blueline, because the third pairing is anything but set in stone”

    Set in stone?? I see what you did there ?

  • Just.Visiting

    If JV were to surprise and make the team this year, Bennett and Janko were to elevate their game, Lindholm to increase his production by 10 points and Peters were to get a consistent effort from the players without any of the GG lineup insanity, it could be the best year in a very long time.

  • Sven

    I remember being in Arizona around the time of the 2017 NHL draft

    a hockey analyst on ESPN was asked if he considered anyone in the draft outside of Hischier and Patrick already NHL ready

    Valimaki was the only name he offered

    • Mickey O'Reaves

      A Finnish scout wished Valimaki good luck before the draft. The Flames were really hoping he’d be available, and was someone they were definitely targeting.

      Robert Malcomson McKenzie had Valimaki ranked as the 3rd highest d-man to be taken also.

    • oilcanboyd

      ..well, that is a positive note, but Valimaki still needs to ‘bang the doors down”…in other words he has to be BETTER than an incumbent to make the team. If he does that, and sure looks like he is capable the Flames need not worry about his contract status over the next few years.

  • FL?MES

    If Valimaki and Ras both make the team and have good years, I would be inclined to protect them plus Hanifin in the expansion draft. This assumes that the expansion draft rules will remain the same and that we would protect 7 forwards, 3 defencemen and 1 goalie. Let Seattle have their pick of the older guys.

  • Mickey O'Reaves

    I’m as upbeat on Valimaki as anyone. But breaking him in, he’s going to need a mentor. Somewhat off topic, but D. Hamilton is never going to mentor anybody. Brodie probably can’t mentor anyone. First off, you have to have a clue what you are doing defensively, have a high hockey IQ, and be vocal.

    You also need elusive leadership qualities. Giordano obviously has that. Part of the reason Treliving brought in Hamonic was for his leadership abilities, and toughness factor. Hamonic has had a year now – as Peters says to get a book on opposition players – so he should be in a good position to mentor young Hanifin.

    Valimaki – Andersson looks really sexy on paper, but they simply don’t have enough pro experience. WW is correct, if things shake out Brodie will get the Gio bump and get traded when his value is high.

    T.J. Brodie was the first name that came to my mind when Tree-Peet said emphatically that they want players that are not intimidated. Guys that can look after themselves if/when a Detroit or Anaheim-style melee breaks out.

    • FL?MES

      Its an interesting concept but once you flip Brodie things start to get lean on the right side – Hamonic, Ras and Stone. I’m not sure I would be comfortable with those players as our top 3 (unless Ras absolutely knocks it out of the park).

      • Mickey O'Reaves

        Hanifin can play both sides, he did it under Peters. Hanifin gets bumped to play with Gio, and Hamonic trains up young Juuso. That’s high on the thinking-out-loud spectrum down the road, obviously a lot can change.

    • calgaryfan

      with the new coach I could see T.J. falling out of favor if his play continues as bad as the last 2 seasons. If Andersson can step up and earn the coaches trust Brodie could fall in the lineup, bypassed by Hamonic and Andersson.

    • That's Old Time Hockey

      I touched in this today I truly believe a year in the AHL with a contract slide will do Valimaki no harm. Especially when you’re contending window is just opening up and IF he plays you have to protect him instead of someone else in the Seattle expansion. If I’m BT I’m protecting all the assets we have. We aren’t in trouble if Valimaki takes the year to develop

    • everton fc

      I’d like to know the same, about Andersson. Is it best to keep both in the “A” this year, so we don’t have to worry about their status for the Expansion Draft?

      • mrroonie

        Here’s the rule from the 2017 expansion draft:

        “All first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward their club’s applicable protection limits).”

        Andersson is going into his third year as a pro.

        • Baalzamon

          There’s also a rule for players with junior eligibility playing in the AHL though. As far as the expansion draft is concerned Andersson is currently entering his second pro season, not his third. But by the time the expansion draft happens it won’t matter. Valimaki is a different matter.

          Basically the rule is if the ELC slides it doesn’t count as a season of pro hockey. This is why Kylington was exempt from this past expansion draft in spite of having played two full AHL seasons.

  • Brian McGrattan's Salute

    It would just be so cool to see a lineup like this:

    Gio-Brodie
    Hanafin-Hamonic
    Valamaki-Ras
    Kulak-Stone

    What depth! What excitement! What skill! I’ve only seen Andersson play the few call up games he got in the last part of the season, but if him or Valamaki have some offense in them (Ras apparently has a good shot?) it would really help with our game. It would be so nice to have a bunch of offensively talented D that can put up points (cough Nashville cough)

  • Korcan

    I see the second scenario being the most likely. There is no need to rush him, but if he is dominant at the AHL level, then bring him up when opportunity presents itself.

  • MWflames

    Expansion draft management: No matter how good valimaki is this year, he will not get his 10 games. Flames will have enough trouble making decisions decisions without him to consider. A free excemption for him is a gift that will not be wasted. I know it’s summer and we want to dream, but it just isn’t happening this year.

    Realistic opinion: is valimaki gonna be meaningfully better than Andersson or kulak this year on the 3rd pair? Not really. Keep him down.

  • Boring Flames Fan

    I think I will buy a Valamaki jersey. I wonder if his jersey will be #6 if he plays for the Flames?
    I hope he is nice to referees.

    If it’s #42, that would be ok too.
    Sergei Makarov wore that number. He was pretty good too.

    • Baalzamon

      I’m not sure why but I always kind of thought Valimaki would get 6, Andersson would get 8, and Kylington would get 4.

      Assuming they all made it of course.

    • Rockmorton65

      I would love it if FN would post an article where someon explains to the readers what a one way deal vs a two way means. The differences between a NTC and a NMC. Would really help in these discussions.

      • Boring Flames Fan

        It’s rather simple my friend.
        It just sounds complicated.
        One way salary guarantees the player his salary, whether they play in the NHL or affiliate minors.
        See Prout’s contract. Same, whether he plays in Stockton or Calgary.

        Two way, provides two salaries.
        One for NHL, one for Affiliate.
        Wotherspoon signed a two way with St. Louis.
        $700,000 if he plays with St. Louis, $ 400,000 if he plays in minors.

        NTC and M-NTC and NMC explained here:
        http://winnipeghockeytalk.com/nhl-news/rfas-and-ufas/difference-no-trade-no-movement-clauses-nhl-players

        • IUsedToHaveAName

          Long and short of NTC vs NMC:

          No-Trade Clause: the player can not be traded without consent but can still be placed in the minors.

          No-Movement Clause: the player can not be traded and can not be placed in the minors without their consent.

          There are many variations of each clause but these are the basics.

  • Zalapski

    Why not just put Valimaki and Jusso together for the entirety of camp and let them make each other better? They both have a offensive capability and are the new age prototype of high offensive upside playmaking d man. In the last decade the Flames haven’t had the coaching staff, players or ethos to let the horses run like they could this year!

    Things are different now. Tre is trying to hit a homerun. He wants high skilled guys and he wants the team to be younger and have more scoring power. Valimaki brings that. He may bring a few mistakes along the way. Same goes for Ras. Peters has no fear running young D-men out in the pros. High upside guys need a chance to fail and I think Peters time in Carolina will only benefit the chances they take on younger players. This isn’t GG’s team, or Sutters or Hartleys. I think their is an obvious move towards high end skill and analytic work for player choices being made. Especially now Burke is gone. The in-house upgrade that is a young stud who finds his game in the nhl is worth the risk sometimes. And I think this year is the first time they’ll roll the dice on young guy. Lets not forget Hanifin is in the top 4 and he’s only 21.

  • Mickey O'Reaves

    Thought experiment. The salary cap is removed, and you have the option of picking lineup A or B:

    Lineup A is exactly the way the Flames are now, and you can make trades, etc. and carry on as normal.

    or

    Lineup B is where you can clone Johnny Gaudreau. But there’s a few catches. You have to clone him 11 times, and every Johnny plays a forward position – always.

    Trades are not allowed, or pulling someone from the minors. Every time Johnny or a clone gets hurt you go to Clones ‘R’ Us to get another Johnny Gaudreau for the next game.

    I’d suggest that the eyeballer realists in the crowd would pick Option A. The skill-trumps-everything analytics crowd could be intrigued by Option B.

    But Option B is literally going to get destroyed on the ice and on the scoreboard. So you need a more balanced team, correct?

    So you really should be trying to build an ideal, well-balanced Team that can eventually compete for it all.

  • Zalapski

    I honestly believe all signs point to Valimaki making the team. The pedigree and the spot are open for him and Treliving has been in no rush to fill that slot. He rolled the dice putting Kulak through waivers and is making Ras work by keeping a well paid veteran in Stone in his way. Valimaki got a long look in camp last year and played solid if not unspectacular hockey. If he shows any signs of life I’ll bet he cracks the opening day lineup. Especially with Peters behind the bench. He has rolled with 18-26 year old D-men since he’s been in the league, why would he stop now when he has a stable full of studs and even the auxiliary pieces are decent.

    With the loss of Hamilton the offense has to be made up. If the Flames get their 2 way contract for Kulak, I can see both Valimaki and Ras making the team with Stone as a 7th/rotating d man and Prout on waivers.

    • Zalapski

      I agree that they probably won’t be putting Prout on waivers. I hope he’s an effective 7th dman, but I wouldn’t mind the loss. I prefer high skill over punchers, even if I’m rotating the guy in every 5th game. That’s why I would put Stone there, unless he is traded. If anything Kulak will sign a two way and he will sent down, and Ras will be sent down unless he forces his way onto the team. I hope to see Stone dealt, just so Ras is the 3rd pairing RD.

      • LannyMac

        So if your top skill guy goes down from being roughed up we just keep plugging in this plethora of skilled guys on the flames roster and the minors we have up and down the two rosters. Who puts a stop to the other team ruffing up our high skilled players the ref. light suspensions. Not trying to be rude would just love an explanation as to how a team deals with dirty play from the other side. And please don’t say a strong power play or high goals for. That does not stop a guy from trying to break a finger.

    • LannyMac

      Why does everyone think these kids that flourish in the minors are going to be the next best thing. Janko was phenomenal in the A but was serviceable last year albeit a very bright future. Hathaway high scoring power forward in the A barely noticeable in the N. So why do most think that Valimaki and Kylinigton are going to sweep us off our feet. I like Andersson but he is no savior I’m not sure he should be ahead of stone on the depth chart yet. All have made great strides and that probably will continue but they are not saviors people pull back on the reins.

  • Jbus

    We don’t need him this year the spot should go to Rasmus we need to see what he is.. Valimaki can season in ahl for one year and then take stones spot in the next year.

  • everton fc

    Someone on the Kulak thread brought up Hogstrom. I never see, nor hear his name mentioned, by anyone. BT may feel Hogstrom makes Kulak potentially expendable. Who knows? Would they want to pair Andersson, with Hogstrom??

  • SeanCharles

    I’m extremely excited about Valimaki and Andersson.

    But one thing I keep wondering is what about a guy in Kylington?

    He has already played 3 seasons in the AHL and has improved each year. Maybe you start him in Stockton to be the #1/2 guy for a while as he spent most of last year behind Wotherspoon-Andersson but I wonder if him spending the whole season down there isn’t good for him.

    I know defenseman usually take longer but we brought this kid into the AHL early so we could give him that experience because he already had some NHL ready qualities.

    I think Stone and Kulak are not really part of the long-term plans in which Stone could be moved and Kulak could be buried in hopes to maintain depth.

    I could see why Treliving was saying he still wants to get more defensive depth. Even if we keep Stone there are still only 12 guys currently under contract (or RFA’s who were tendered a qualifying offer) to fill both clubs:

    Gio-Brodie
    Hanafin-Hamonic
    Kulak-Stone
    Kylington-Andersson
    Valimaki-Prout
    Hogstrom-Healey