#4 – Juuso Valimaki
Age: 21 (as of August 1 2020)
2019-20 Team: Calgary Flames (NHL) – Injured All Season
2020-21 Team: Ilves-Tampere (SM-Liiga) LOAN
Drafted in 2017, Round 1, Pick #16
2019 Ranking: #6
It’s safe to say that Juuso Valimaki missing the entire 2019-20 hockey season with a Torn ACL was extremely disappointing for fans, the team, and Juuso himself. After looking like he really fit in on the team during 2018-19, he was poised to contend for a full-time roster spot in 2019-20 and take the next step in his development. Unfortunately the injury cost him the season, but he rehabbed from it and is now playing on Loan with the Tampereen Ilves of the SM Liiga in Finland. (I absolutely NEED to buy one of those jerseys)
So far in 19 games this season, Valimaki sits 1st in defensemen scoring in the entire league with two goals and 17 assists. That point total is also good for 7th overall league-wide including forwards which is very impressive. He also carries the 2nd highest +/- in the entire league at +15, second only to his defensive partner who has a +16. Valimaki has been on the ice for 29 5v5 Goals For for his club, which again is the highest mark among all players in the league.
It’s not as if he’s getting these points gifted to him through PP time, he is playing top pairing minutes for the Ilves, averaging about 23 minutes a night which is 5th in the league. Overall it has been a very impressive return to game action for Valimaki who previously hadn’t played since the Flames had been eliminated in the 2019 playoffs by Colorado.
At this point heading into 2020-21 he should have a very good chance of claiming a spot on the defensive core and could make a serious case to move up the lineup if he can carry over his performance from Finland. He will already be in game-shape which should give him an extra advantage over the competition. He could also make a significant case for earning some time on the PP2 unit this season as well.
While it still isn’t certain exactly how the Flames are planning to shake out their defensive lines, I could see the Flames pairing Valimaki with Chris Tanev similar to how we saw the Vancouver Canucks pair Quinn Hughes with Tanev last season which led to some success.
It is also important to note that due to Valimaki missing all of last season, he is now automatically exempt from the upcoming Seattle expansion draft which will give the Flames a bit of extra wiggle room when deciding who to protect. The key for Valimaki in 2020-21 will be staying healthy for a full season and taking a step forward and becoming a full-time NHL defenseman. He has currently looked the part so far in Finland.
by Michael MacGillivray