FlamesNation Top 20 Prospects 2018: #1 Juuso Valimaki

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.

Games played Goals Assists Points
43 14 31 45

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.

#20 – Martin Pospisil #19 – Demetrios Koumontzis
#18 – Emilio Pettersen #17 – Filip Sveningsson
#16 – Milos Roman #15 – Dmitry Zavgorodniy
#14 – D’Artagnan Joly #13 – Adam Ruzicka
#12 – Linus Lindstrom #11 – Glenn Gawdin
#10 – Morgan Klimchuk #9 – Jon Gillies
#8 – Tyler Parsons #7 – Matthew Phillips
#6 – Spencer Foo #5 – Oliver Kylington
#4 – Dillon Dube #3 – Andrew Mangiapane
#2 – Rasmus Andersson


    • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

      I’m happy for Stajan. That man is a consummate pro and did wonders for the development of our young guys and gave his best every shift, even if that was replacement level at the end. I hope he enjoys a season or two exploring Europe with his family and when he’s done the Flames bring him back in some player development capacity.

        • piscera.infada

          He wasn’t that bad. He was overpaid, and he was made-out to be something he never was by Sutter when acquired. If he was never billed as the “top-line centre, Jarome never had” in the Phaneuf deal–which was garbage from the moment it was uttered–I don’t think some fans would have soured on him like they did. None of that is his fault.

          That’s not to say his NHL days aren’t behind him, but the dude does deserve some credit as a “good soldier” for the organization–as an aside, I absolutely loathe that saying, but Stajan was as close to actually being whatever that means as anyone it’s usually used to describe.

    • LannyMac

      I know all the trashing of Stajan is in good humour. I hope everyone realizes that he comes across as a great individual and a hard worker best wishes Matt

  • Garry T

    We have been hurt, no question about it, in terms of trading draft picks away. I personally hope the Treiliving realizes this and takes the Sabres policy whereby you accumulate picks as opposed to being in the embarrassing position of having none. Additionally, any players we are moving in the near term, we should be getting value for. Over the next two or three years the whole of the NHL player payroll situation is going to come to a head with players wanting or having major contracts being dumped by their teams because they simply cannot meet player demands. Everyone marginal or not seems to want a threshold number of $ 5,000,000 and I think this is the case with Hanifin and his agent. Tyler Seguin with Dallas is not being extended at this point and may not be. He may be moved in season or at the deadline.
    Asking for too much money and he knows it but he feels if the other guys are getting paid, he should be too. Coming to a head, we might be able to cherry pick the odd guy.

    • Off the wall

      Bobrovsky hasn’t signed an extension either? Same with Panarin? Word is Bobrovsky wants a Carey Price contract?! Who knows how much Panarin will ask for!

      • Kevin R

        Bobrovsky is a very interesting one to watch if we run into issues in net. If you can get him down to 7.0 mill per & pay 1.0 mill for a backup, 8.0 mill allocated to goaltending is pretty good. Heck, I think we exceeded that when we had Hiller & Ramos & I would take Bob & Riitch/Gilles in a heartbeat over that tandem.

        • Sir ryosus

          Bob is making over $7 mill now why would he take less. Would love flames to have an elite goalie but FA isn’t the way. Either draft or trade find another kipper ( overlooked and stuck) in another teams system. Or hope Parsons can turn it around this year to get back on projected path

    • HAL MacInnis

      I would rather have Valimaki start the season in Stockton and see what he’s truly capable of. Of course, if he’s skating circles around everyone at camp, put a Flames jersey on him… but if he looks human our there, Heat bound, I say.