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Nation Network 2017 Prospect Profile: #16 – Juuso Välimäki

Over the past few years, Finland produced one first round NHL draft defenders: Rasmus Ristolainen, Julius Honka, Olli Juolevi. This year may produce two with Miro Heiskanen and Juuso Välimäki.

Valimaki brings it all as a very complete two-way defender. The young Finn has been compared to Olli Juolevi due to his overall game, but Valimaki may have even higher upside.

Bio:

  • Age: 18-years-old, 1998-10-06
  • Birthplace: Nokia, FIN
  • Position: LD
  • Handedness: Left
  • Height: 6’2″
  • Weight: 201 lbs
  • Draft Year Team: Tri-City Americans

Stats:

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pGPS S pGPS N pGPS % pGPS P/82 Expected Value
 28 39 71.1  32.5 23.1

Read about pGPS here.

Scouts:

NHL (CSS) FUTURE CONSIDERATIONS HOCKEYPROSPECT MCKEEN’S
 
ISS BUTTON Pronman
11 (NA) 12 17 14 14 17 23

Peter Harling – Dobber Prospects:

Valimaki has better than average size, skating, skill and is one of the older players in the 2017 draft class. His offensive output didn’t materialize at the World Junior for a struggling Team Finland but has been over a point per game producer in his second season in the WHL. Valimaki will excel at the NHL with his speed and ability to carry the puck up ice as well as make exceptional outlet passes. His skating is an asset and in conjunction with his size he plays the prototypical modern day NHL style of game.

Dennis Schellenberg – Hockey Prospectus:

A mature and responsible two-way defenceman who makes good decisions with the puck. Not the most flashy player but he shows poise with the puck and plays very reliably at both ends. Shows some leadership skills, especially when quarterbacking the powerplay.

Future Considerations:

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A strong, minute-munching, two-way, dependable blueliner…not a lot of high-end offensive flash or dash to his game, but just makes the right play consistently…good vision and puck moving ability, has no panic to his game and waits for his options…can sling the puck around with strong accurate passes…his hockey sense allows him to read and react to the play well in advance…very committed to blocking shots

John Williams – NHL CS:

I think his offensive game has really come along this year. He’s got a fair number of goals and he’s pushing the game offensively more than he did last year. Last year he was good offensively … he moved the puck but he got hurt and missed a lot of time. He was feeling his way more last year. This year he’s been more assertive and he’s trying to dictate the game more.

Our Take:

Valimaki is a fairly well-rounded player, both in performance and in his tools.

Valimaki may be the highest performing zone transitional defender in the CHL for first-time draft eligible skaters, although Conor Timmins could put up a fight there. The left-shot defender moves the puck extremely well. He is an exceptional skater and able to move out of trouble with ease while handling the puck well enough for initiating the breakout. His puck skills are not elite, but they are definitely not weak, as seen with his massive production.

The SEAL model, originally constructed by myself to be the next step of Rhy Jessop’s point per game adjustments and now taken even further by CA’s own Jeremy, suggests that Valimaki garnered the most impressive point per game production of first-time eligible NHL Entry Draft defenders.

He consistently produced, whether even strength or the power play, at a high level. As an early birthday, there is some salt needed with his production. Still, Valimaki comes up on top when taking age and other factors into account.

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Of course, a combination of elite production and slightly-above-average size comes extremely safe pGPS rating:

Valimaki has multiple statistical cohorts with NHL success, with hugely varying degrees of upside. This does not dictate what Valimaki most likely projects at, but it suggests he has as good as chance as you’d want from an 18-year-old in producing NHL value for whoever drafts him.

In statistical projections, we see a fairly evenly distributed population of cohorts:

Adding qualitative scouting to the quantitative, Valimaki offers a lot of intrigue.

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He carries an outstanding set of tools, with above average size, mobility, acceleration, and IQ and solid puck handling skills. He distributes well and can man the power play. He is one of the best zonal transition draft eligible defenders in major junior. These things have combined together garnering him elite-level production.

Valimaki is not all offence either. While not overly aggressive (which can be a pro or con depending on who you talk to), he defends well enough. He has a lot of strength for an 18-year-old and plays well enough along the boards and in front of the net. His best defensive asset comes from his gap control, combining his thinking and speed. He won’t destroy players with a bone-shaking checks left, right, and centre, but he can be physical when needed.

Statistics are a tool, as is scouting. The best process is combining these tools.

Statistics tell us that Valimaki produced elite levels of offence and this makes him a fairly safe bet to make the NHL. It also suggests to us that he has a fairly high probability of being a top-four NHL defender. Scouting allows us to refine these suggestions.

Valimaki’s defensive skill makes him more likely to be the 70 percent high-scoring defenders than the 30 per cent, which would most likely be predominately either or both undersized or defensively weak defensemen. His offensive skills, IQ, skating, and size suggest that he has a great shot at being better than third-pairing; however, his lack of that wow factor or dynamic “oomph” limits that chance he becomes an elite or first-pairing defender…

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… but probability is not destiny.