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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

 



  • Styxx

    Flames have shown with Gaudreau and Bennett they won’t hold a top draft pick back for “administrative” purposes (eg Seattle entry draft)…if the player proves they belong with the Flames then they’ll support the coaches decision. Given this, Valimaki should have an excellent opportunity to make the big team assuming he proves it with an excellent training camp.

  • redwhiteblack

    This years camp will be very interesting. I feel like the young forwards and DMen will push to make the team. Hopefully under Peters a few including Vali can make the team better.

    • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

      And hopefully with GG and BB out of the picture the young guys will be allowed to take a spot on merit. If both JV and Phat Ras take a spot it would have to mean either Stone is 7D or he’s gone. If he is 7D then Kulak is in the A (or gone either by trade or waivers). In the best scenario that would leave our depth as Stone, Kulak, Prout, Kylington and Hogstrom. I’m okay with that actually. If we move or lose one of Stone or Kulak it’s a little less comfortable but still okay. Feeling better about this!

  • freethe flames

    With Valimaki (19), Andersson (21), Hanifin(21) and Kylington the Flames D looks solid for long time. But looking good on paper is not the same as gelling and playing well in the NHL; unless Valimaki dominates in the preseason then for his development and the good of the organization he needs to play big minutes and dominate in the AHL.

    • 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

  • Off the wall

    Valamaki should play in the AHL this season. We might as well use the opportunity for the ‘slide rule’. Perhaps next season he just may win the Calder trophy as a rookie… if he gets to play in the top 4?

    • Avalain

      If Hanifan and Gio are still on the team then Valimaki would need to beat one of them out to play in the top 4. That’s a tough sell unless one of the 3 are moved to the right side.

      • LannyMac

        He will slide into 3LD next year and eventually will supplant Gio in a few years may take Hanifin’s spot as no. 1 D. That’s three years down the road people. Also this kid has never played pro hockey I’m guessing he will eventually be a regular on this team but please he is a long way from being an elite dman

    • Redleader

      Spot on my friend , I was thinking the exact same . This guys already got the size ,speed,skills and brain , another future possibility for a Flames Captain one day too.

    • calgaryfan

      The way I understand it, his salary is 70 thousand dollars plus signing bonus in Stockton but with the Flames he has a opportunity to make 1.3 million plus signing bonus. Do you think he will be happy playing in Stockton if he knows he should be on the Flames. I think management needs to be honest with the players and slot them by ability and not by contract rules.

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    This kid is going to be a stud, I hope that he makes the big club this preseason, considering that he dominated the WHL when he was there, a little baptism by fire on the 3rd pairing could speed up his development considerably

  • Eggs Bennett

    If we are relying on a third pairing D-man to be a difference maker to make the playoffs this year, we are not going very far. What’s the rush? One year in the AHL for seasoning helps him and the team in the long run from a contract/expansion draft perspective.

    • DoooieStevens

      Having him play over Stone helps the Flames more. Icing the best team would be the best move. IMO that has both Valimakki and Ras playing and Stone up in the press box until he waves his NTC to go to Ottawa.

    • 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.

  • 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

  • Off the wall

    The top 4 defence is pretty much solidified.

    That leaves 3 spots for ;
    Kulak, Stone, Andersson, Kylington, Valamaki and Prout.

    I have no idea how this plays out, however I don’t think Peters’ will use Valamaki as the #6 guy?

    He’s got to play more, wouldn’t you think? Same with Andersson..

    • OhCannabis

      I think the way the new nhl is going and a coach like Peter’s who has had young, stud defenceman on his nhl roster in Carolina, we may see something different in Calgary as far as the line up. Instead of a heavy top 4, I believe Peter’s will use more of a balanced 6, and rotate guys in and out depending on play, opponent etc. Just like the way I see the league transitioning with forwards. Balance and a 4 line attack.

      • Styxx

        Peters will want to preserve Gio as much as possible as well, both for a long season (eg playoffs) and career-wise over the next couple years.

        Rather than D minutes being split 26/20/14 for 1st/2nd/3rd pairing, a more even split of 22/20/18 would really help the Flames through the long season and playoffs ahead.

        • OhCannabis

          I agree Styxx, this is not only good for preserving guys like Gio, but forces other guys to step up and be accountable. Of course some nights some guys will get more minutes, but hey that’s the game. If Hanifann is having a super hot streak, give him the ice, if he is having a rough stretch, maybe give him a little less ice. I really hope Peter’s is a smart player coach. All I have read does make me believe he is.

    • OhCannabis

      Not sure I agree its solidified. That is the wrong way of looking at it I believe. If the Flames get into camp and say Brodie has taken 4 steps backward, should he be gifted a top 4 spot based on experience? No. I hope just like all the talk about battles for spots in the forward ranks the same happens for the d.

    • Fat Tony

      If we can somehow move Michael Stone, how nice would it look to see a 3rd pairing of Valimaki – Andersson with Kulak sitting. I believe we could share the minutes around more equally between all three pairings with each having something to offer offensively and defensively

    • Redleader

      Valimaki and Anderson as the 3rd pairing and they probably get a bunch of poverty minutes,that would be pretty exciting, could have a bunch of Rookies fill the roster this season.

  • Jagrrrrr, baby. Yeah.

    Unless Jussy is going to crack the Flames top 4 out of camp, and I really don’t think that will be the case this year, then he should go to Stockton. Otherwise, they’re spending an expansion protection spot for the benefit of improving their 3rd pair. That doesn’t seem like reasonable asset management to me.
    Also, it gives him a year to transition from playing against WHLers to playing against (some) seasoned pros.
    Win win.

  • Rudy27

    Might be good to play him in Stockton for a year to gain confidence and play a key role on the first pairing and PP versus maybe 3rd pairing on the Flames. We’ve seen too many examples of players that were pushed too soon having struggles (e.g. Bennett, Lazar, and half the Oilers first round picks!)

  • freethe flames

    Can any of the young lefties play on the right side? Valimaki sounds like a stud I have only had limited viewings of him (mostly development camp and some TV viewings) but if he and either Andersson or Hanifin can find chemistry then we could have a stud pairing for years to come. They could even play middle and third pairing roles in their NHL development.

  • Chucky

    The question is “can Kulak or Stone step up to play top 4 minutes at the end of the season”?

    If the answer is no to either player then Valimaki or Anderson need to be in the lineup. The team needs to be prepared for an injury to one of the top 4 at a critical time in the season. That means that the guys that are laying on the third pairing need to be able to take those minutes because guys playing in the AHL cannot be expected to adapt that quickly. So this is the time for the third pairing to be better than 10 minutes a night.

  • cornwallroyals

    On a different note, when are we going to see that Hanifin signing that was so close to be happening a few days ago as per some reports. I think the hold up is the agents for the last 4 top RFA defencemen Hanifin/Morrisey/Theodore/Nurse are scared to be the first as it will probably set the market for these guys. They don’t want to be leaving any money on the table. Come on TRE, get her done. We all know it’s going to be around the $5M mark on a 5-6 year contract.

    • oilcanboyd

      The Flames will hold a presser when hanifan reports a few days early before main camp. Big formal in person I introduction to Calgary. I believe they have a verbal already…

  • canadian1967

    I really think that by the end of this season as a full time NHL’er, that Valimaki will have shown that he is one of our top 3 D-men. (Even if he IS playing on the bottom pairing with Rasmus)

  • BringtheFire 2.O

    Really excited to see what Juuso Valimaki will do in training camp. Great prospect who should challenge for a spot this season. If he spends some time in the AHL then the Heat fans are in for a treat. I predict great things for this young man. GFG.

  • Jobu

    Valimaki may be ready for the NHL, but he is still developing. You don’t stunt that development by having him play 7 minutes a night. Have him play big minutes in the AHL first to get comfortable.

    • Burnward

      Or, you can run 23-24 min (brodie-gio), 20 (hanifin-hamonic), 16-17 (Vali/Stone/Ras/Kulak). Will depend on the amount of special teams. But 5-6 shifts a period or so at even strength should be enough to grow and develop.

      • Jobu

        Wouldn’t 10-12 shifts be twice as much development? Or perhaps twice as fast? Jobu understands that the quality is different in the NHL than the AHL, but time on ice and easing in slow is important. And if you’re going to use Tkachuk as an argument, the game is much MUCH harder for a defenseman than it is a winger. We have time to be careful with this one, so lets…

        • Burnward

          Agreed. But my biggest concern about kids falls into three areas: speed (not an issue), size (not an issue), hockey IQ (not an issue) and to a lesser degree confidence (not an issue that I can see).

          This wouldn’t be my course of action for Andersson or Kylington but I think Valimaki can handle it and push the play. Especially across from a guy like Stone.

    • Stockton's Finest

      Valimaki with the Heat gives Stockton’s Finest something to write about….(taking a queue from Jubu with the 3rd person reference).

      It would be nice to see him for a little time down here to get acquainted with the pro game. But if he does outperform everyone else, he belongs in Calgary.

      I also agree that he needs top 4 minutes. You have to ask what is better for his development, 12 minutes on the 3rd line with no special team play or 22+ minutes on Stockton’s top line with both PP and PK minutes?

      Of course I am bias, but I also want what is best for the Flames.

      GFG and GHG

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Those are some glowing reviews by some hockey experts on Valimaki. To hear that he was arguably the best WHL player in the league last year when he was not injured is high praise. I have had limited viewings of him outside of International competition. I am more excited about Ras because he has always been one of the best at his craft with suspect diet and training, which is no longer the case. He appears to have ice in his veins and well liked in the room. I’ll admit that I don’t love the Wideman comparison but it has some validity.

  • MDG1600

    Even if JV is the 5th or 6th best defenceman in pre-season I think the team is still better off sending him to Stockton. Developing a player to reach his full potential asap might mean he is better off playing 25 minutes a night against men in Stockton and killing penalties, running the PP etc… .

    • MDG1600

      … on the other hand all it will take is a significant an injury to one of the top 4 D men and JV might get his chance to play bigger minutes in the NHL and gt thrown into the fire so to speak.