Although Olli Juolevi was on the radar, it seemed Jakob Chychrun was the unanimous choice for top defenceman in the 2016 NHL Draft this time last year. Fast forward a season, and there's a good chance Juolevi is the first defender selected on draft day.
Following in the footsteps of fellow countryman, Olli Maatta, Juolevi headed to the powerhouse London Knights in his draft season. Juolevi almost instantly became the Knights' top defender in all situations, and further improved his stock with a fabulous World Junior Championship on Finland's gold-medal-winning team. In the post-season, he followed up an OHL title with a Memorial Cup, where he was the tournament's best defender.
Birthplace: Helsinki, Finland
Weight: 179 lbs.
It was a quick transition to OHL hockey for Juolevi. Although there were some initial errors with defensive zone coverage and puck tracking, he soon emerged as a consistent presence for the Knights. His positioning is incredible, always in the right spot to disrupt the puck carrier and getting his stick in the way. He follows the puck exceptionally well, enabling him to proactively shut down passing and shooting lanes. Although he has some trouble consistently winning battles, and will make the odd puck-handling miscue, his defensive game projects well to the NHL.
A graceful skater, he reaches top speed in a hurry, allowing to constantly be an offensive option. Furthermore, his fluidity extends to his pivots and turns, keeping him always in the correct defensive position.
The never-pressured Juolevi possesses high-end controlled zone exit ability. He rarely throws away possession, typically opting for a crisp tape-to-tape pass. In the offensive zone, he pinches every chance he gets, and is usually successful at it. This ability really allowed the Knights to apply immense pressure on the opposition.
What Juolevi lacks in flash, he makes up for with substance and consistency. Although not as flashy of a stick-handler or as heavy as a shooter as Jake Bean, Jakob Chychrun, or Mikhail Sergachev, his playmaking may very well be the best of the four.
Juolevi's methodical approach — passing for the sole purpose of creating a lane when he gets a pass back — creates all sorts of seams on the ice. His playmaking ability is high-end, firing the puck around the ice crisply and smartly. He's exceptional at getting pucks through traffic, which allows him to distribute across the zone. He's not limited to the point, as noted by his love for jumping down low and becoming a back-door option.
Perhaps what he is lacking a bit is dynamism. His powerful and accurate shot is under-utilized, as he will often pass himself out of a shooting lane. His style is more calculated and less risky, which isn't a bad thing, but considering his tools, perhaps taking a few more risks here and there would be beneficial.
Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects
A competitive spark plug, Olli Juolevi is a complete, all-around defenceman who can hem the opposition in their own end or make things difficult for the opposition at home; either way, he puts the pressure on and lays it on thick. A strong and balanced skater, he can rush the puck through the neutral zone with ease or backcheck with haste. Uses his size to his advantage, but knows his physical limits and plays within them. Instead of playing overly physical, he makes his presence felt by exhibiting his high-end playmaking ability and puck possession play. All-in-all, a well-rounded blue-liner who thrives under pressure and can be trusted in all situations.
Safe and steady defender who has offensive flair to his game. Can drive the play forward, is a smooth skater and comes up big in high-intensity situations. Offensively gifted forward with good defensive instincts, Juolevi will need to play more physically down low.
Mark Edwards, Hockey Prospect Black Book
One of my favourite players in this draft. From my first viewing this season in the Knights pre-season, right through to some outstanding performances in the playoffs, Olli impressed me. He’s so smart and so poised, those tools along with his great feet and vision make him my number one defenseman in this draft. It was tight between Olli and Sergachev for me earlier this season but Juolevi pulled away the last few months and became my clear-cut top Dman.
Smart two-way defender with size. Fluid skating stride with quickness and speed. Very effective running PP, has a very high panic threshold when being pressured. Changes angles well and can walk the line to open up shooting lane. Not physical, relies on body positioning and a good stick to defend. Very good skater with mobility, good gap control and pivots. Retrieves drop-ins quickly. He has solid point production this year, which is due to the way he reads the ice so well and finds the open man. Ability to slip the first man in on the fore check. Equally as good on defense as he is on offense. Close to being NHL ready. Still needs to get stronger physically as he has a lanky frame.
Future Considerations: 11th
ISS Hockey: 11th
Central Scouting: 5th (North American skaters)
Hockey Prospect Black Book: 6th
DraftBuzz Hockey: 11th
Juolevi's production falls short of the marks set by the other top defenders, Mikhail Sergachev, Jake Bean, and Jakob Chychrun.
Playing on the dominant London Knights, it's a little surprising that Juolevi's production is the weakest of the four. However, he spent a fair bit of time alternating on the first power-play unit with Victor Mete, while each of the other three was a consistent mainstays on his team's top unit. Often on the ice with the Matthew Tkachuk-Christian Dvorak-Mitch Marner trio, Juolevi's touches in the offensive zone were more limited than his counterparts.
Despite the production, I believe that he is the best defenceman available in the draft. His fluid skating, high-end smarts, and lethal playmaking make him a potential top-pairing defender at the NHL level. Although he doesn't take as many risks as the other top CHL options, his calculated style projects easily to the NHL.
For the Montreal Canadiens, Juolevi would be a great fit. Not only is his talent worthy of a top-10 pick, he's a left-shooting defender that has the potential to fill the void Andrei Markov will leave.