The franchise’s most recent first round pick, 2017’s 6’2, 204 lb. Juuso Valimaki, has turned a lot of heads over the past year and change. He stood out at July’s development camp in several ways and, at least right now, he’s the Flames’ top prospect, jumping up from our third ranking in 2017.
How did we get here?
Originally from Nokia, a town in southern Finland, Valimaki progressed through the minor ranks with NoPy and Ilves. After a strong performance with Ilves’ U20 team where he had 20 points in 44 games, Valimaki made the leap over to North America when he was selected by the Tri-City Americans in the 2015 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.
Valimaki’s rookie year in the Western Hockey League was pretty solid, with him generating 32 points in 56 games. Hoping to get a bit of home comfort into his off-ice life, Valimaki’s mother and brothers moved to Tri-City prior to his second season – they shared a house with teammate Michael Rasmussen – and it might’ve had an impact on his game. Comfort off the ice coincided with Valimaki having an offensive outburst with 61 points in 60 games (and a trip to the World Juniors). He ended up being the 11th ranked North American skater by Central Scouting and was selected by the Flames at 16th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. He signed his entry-level deal with the club a month after being drafted.
Through his Finnish tenure and his first two years in the WHL, Valimaki was named a conference second team all-star and suited up at two Under-18 World Championships, two Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournaments and a World Juniors. He built upon that in the 2017-18 season.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
The 2017-18 season was Valimaki’s third year on the smaller North American ice.
The season was impressive on a few fronts. Valimaki captained Finland at the World Juniors and was named a WHL conference all-star for the second season in a row. He was also one of the WHL’s top offensive defensemen (when he was healthy). He was sixth among blueliners in primary points per game and led all WHL defensemen in even strength primary points per game. Simply put, when Valimaki played he was one of the biggest offensive threats in the league at his position.
The downside for Valimaki was that he missed a good chunk of time. He missed two weeks in November with a lower body injury, then six weeks from mid-December until the end of January between the World Juniors and aggravating an upper body injury at that tournament. All told, between injuries and two World Juniors, he’s missed 57 games since joining the Dub. That said, the circumstances around the injuries suggest that he’s merely been unlucky rather than fragile.
For a deeper dive into Valimaki’s numbers, revisit Christian Tiberi’s writeup on him here.
Those in the know
Andy Eide, the WHL beat writer for 710 ESPN Seattle, provided his assessment of Valimaki’s 2017-18 campaign.
A case could be made that Valimaki was the best player in the WHL last season. Injuries kept him out of that conversation however and he was limited to just 43 regular season games with Tri-City. He did pile up 45 points in those games and stayed hot during the Americans’ long playoff run. In 12 playoff games he assisted on 13 goals while scoring four of his own. He was dominant at times, aggressive in joining the offensive rush and on the point during Tri-City power plays. Valimaki logged a ton of minutes for Tri-City and appears to be ready for moving up to the next level.
Aaron Piper covered Valimaki extensively this past season as the Tri-City Americans’ beat writer for the Dub Network. He shared his thoughts on the blueliner.
He unfortunately had some time off due to injuries, but when he was on the ice, he had the ability to change the game every shift he was out there. There were times that he tried to do too much individually but I think that was just the competitiveness and confidence in his abilities. His puck possession skills were incredible. His ability to join the rush and get back quickly were difference makers. He was almost like a fourth forward in offensive situations. His vision in the ice was usually a step ahead of everyone else.
On the horizon
Valimaki is going pro in 2018-19: the only question is whether he’ll be suiting up for the Flames or the Stockton Heat. If he plays in the AHL, he qualifies for a “slide year” under the CBA – he would essentially have a four-year entry-level deal and the Flames would get an additional cheap year of development. The contractual incentives to keep him on the farm cannot be denied.
But Valimaki looked like a man among boys in the WHL last season and at July’s Flames development camp. The Flames missed the playoffs last year, in part because they didn’t get enough out of their third pairing. If Valimaki can be a difference maker, even occasionally, it might be worth burning the first year of his contract.
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