Sometimes the grass is greener. Even in the desert. That’s definitely the case for former Calgary Flames prospect Juuso Valimaki.
The defenceman seems to have finally found a home with the Arizona Coyotes after many ups and downs – both literal and figuratively – with the Flames.
Expectations were high for the 2017 NHL draft first-round pick (16th overall) but injuries, the pandemic and a deepening Flames blueline position derailed his development in Calgary.
The one-time top team prospect became waiver fodder at the end of training camp.
And the Coyotes were happy to scoop him up.
“I don’t really like comparing (the two organizations) too much, but like I’ve been saying, just the positive start, talking to people and them encouraging me, trying to pump my tires in a sense that, ‘You’re a good player, we want to help you, we see a lot of potential in you,’ that helped a lot,” Valimaki said in his return to the Saddledome on Monday.
“I think that part of it kind of wasn’t present as much here, especially towards the end when you don’t play much or you don’t play necessarily the way you want or someone else wants out of you.
“Then you don’t talk about the positives as much, and I’m a guy who feeds off the positive energy instead of the negative one.”
In training camp, Valimaki talked about the mental battle that accompanied an uncertain standing under head coach Darryl Sutter. He wouldn’t criticize the coach or the Flames organization directly but admits it was tough in Calgary when he saw his action chopped under the new bench boss’s reign.
“I can’t really speak about it; I think every player has a little bit different opinions about things,” Valimaki said. “I think at the start of the year last year when I played however many games, I think I was playing pretty well and it was a little bit of a surprise to all of a sudden sit for weeks and not play a game again. Was definitely not too much fun, but like I said, right now I’m happy and enjoying hockey and that’s all that matters.
“Everything’s more positive in my mind.”
Valimaki is averaging more than 17 minutes a night and has a goal and five assists in 18 games with the Coyotes so far.
The 24-year-old credits his fresh start for the career reboot.
“I think I’ve found my game again in a way that I didn’t really play at that level in a while here in Calgary,” Valimaki said. “So, yeah, I just think it’s helped me and I’m happy now.”