ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo on June 24-25. Olli Juolevi is the No. 5-ranked North American skater in the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings. The Avalanche has the 10th overall selection at the draft.
Olli Juolevi is known for his size and playmaking ability. He is an accurate passer, competitive skater and just barely 18 years old with a birthdate of May 5.
The 6-foot-2, 182-pound defenseman is expected to be selected quickly in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft after a successful first season in North America and an impressive appearance at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship tournament.
Juolevi is the second highest-rated player at his position and landed at the fifth overall spot in the NHL Central Scouting’s final North American rankings.
"He's an excellent skater who is able to avoid pressure by using his feet to create separation, allowing him to make plays in all three zones," said NHL Central Scouting’s Matt Ryan to NHL.com. "He displays very good offensive instincts and his skill set suggests he'll be able to take his offensive game to another level as he continues to mature as a player."
After being selected in the first round of the 2015 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft by the London Knights, the Helsinki, Finland, native totaled 42 points (nine goals and 33 assists) in 57 games during the club’s 2015-16 campaign. Juolevi' points total was the most by a blueliner on his squad and the third most by a rookie D-man in the Ontario Hockey League.
He also played in 18 OHL playoff contests and finished tied for the second most points by a defender during the postseason with three goals and 11 assists. The Knights advanced all the way to the finals and swept the Niagara IceDogs in four games to claim the 2016 J. Ross Robertson Cup and a berth to the Memorial Cup.
"Juolevi is a heck of a player and is having an impressive season," said Ryan, who evaluates OHL players for Central Scouting. "He burst onto the scene and didn't require the adjustment period that most players coming from Europe do. What makes him so good is that he possesses elite hockey sense. His poise with the puck is that of a much older player, and he has the ability to see the ice the way most players can't."
Prior to his year in London, Ontario, Juolevi spent time with Jokerit’s Under-20 team of the Jr. A SM-Liiga in Finland and represented his nation in several international tournaments. His 2014-15 season was cut short due to a knee injury that required surgery, but the defenseman's rapid recovery since then has been impressive.
Interest sparked even more in Juolevi from his performance at the World Juniors, as he helped his country claim the gold medal—its fourth overall title and second in just three years.
In seven outings, Juolevi collected nine points (all helpers) for the fourth highest total on Team Finland and tied for the most by a defenseman during the competition. It was also the most in World Junior Championship history by a blueliner at the age of 17.
At the conclusion of the tournament, Juolevi finished with the most minutes by a player at his position and was voted to the the media All-Star Team, earning one of the two defensemen spots.
"I worked hard this season and wanted to be great at the World Juniors, but there was really good guys on our team and it was fun to play with all of them," Juolevi said to NHL.com. "They helped me, and I hope I helped them.
"To win that tournament in my hometown in front of all my family and friends watching was a great experience, something I'll remember for the rest of my life."
Juolevi was further selected as one of 40 participants for the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 28 and finished with a plus-1 rating and two shots in a 3-2 win for Team Orr.
He is now preparing for a busy summer, one that begins with a run at the Memorial Cup and hopefully includes a first-round selection by an NHL club with little time off.
"At the end of the day it will be up to the NHL teams to decide who they believe will be the better fit for their organization, but it is [NHL Central Scouting's] opinion that Juolevi has made a very strong impression this season," scout Ryan said to the league’s website in early March.
Juolevi has already made a large impact during the Knights' postseason run, and he's expected to make the most of his opportunities at next week's Scouting Combine to showcase his talents one last time before the summer draft.