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TOP PROSPECTS - VALIMAKI

'You hear what Bill Peters wants on defence and that's Juuso Valimaki'

by TORIE PETERSON @ToriePeterson / CalgaryFlames.com

Over the next two weeks, Torie Peterson will be highlighting a group of young players who have shown tremendous promise in our Top Prospects series.

Over his years behind the bench, Bill Peters has been able to get the most out of his blueliners.

While he constructs a framework for his defence corps to play in their own zone, giving plenty of structure to allow his team to do the "heavy lifting" in their own end, he also pushes them to join the rush whenever possible and be creative when they charge in on the forecheck.

That mix of sticking to a system but not so rigidly that it stifles the offensive vision of his defencemen has allowed his charges to flourish.

That structure fits the bill for one highly-touted Flames prospect in particular.

"You hear what Bill Peters wants on defence and that's Juuso Valimaki," assistant general manager Craig Conroy told CalgaryFlames.com. "It really is.

"I expect him to come in here and really make a push, soon, to make the big club."

Valimaki, Calgary's first-round pick in 2017, has established himself as one of the WHL's top blueliners over the past three seasons.

The Finn joined the Tri-City Americans in the 2015-16 campaign after being selected 14th overall in the 2015 CHL Import Draft. His rookie year in the league was, by all measures, a success with seven goals and 32 points in 56 games.

He followed that up with a 19-goal, 61-point season in 2016-17, leading all WHL defenceman who were 18 years old or younger in goals, points, primary points, and points-per-game average that year. Valimaki's development over his first two seasons with the Americans led him to being drafted 16th overall in the 2017 draft and he immediately became one of the organization's top-ranked defensive prospects.

In 2017-18, Valimaki was limited to 43 games due to minor injuries and captaining Finland's entry in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship but he made the most of his time with Tri-City. He netted 14 goals and posted 45 points, averaging a career-high 1.05 points-per-game.

In the 2018 WHL playoffs, he bolstered his production and averaged 1.42 points-per-game in 12 postseason skates. He scored four goals and 17 points during the Americans run to the WHL Western Conference Final, where Tri-City fell to the Everett Silvertips.

"He has a man's body and he's a great skater with offensive instinct," Conroy said. "It's fun to watch guys that are good pros and good people. He's all about the team, all about winning, it's not about him but he knows he has to step up.

"He has the skill and ability to be a difference maker on the back-end, which is hard to find."

Watching Valimaki grow into the player he is today gives Conroy plenty of optimism for his future with the organization. He has made rapid strides since coming over from Finland three years ago, playing a robust defensive game while continuing to generate offensive at an impressive clip.

This kind of progression lends itself well to making a swift transition to the pro game, which very well could happen for Valimaki in the near future.

"With him being able to continue to put up points and not miss a step is great to see," said Conroy. "When everyone is trying to stop him and push him down, he rises up to the challenge. To able to repeat the production when everyone is gunning for him is impressive.

"He was elite even (in 2016-17) but then you watch him be the captain of Finland at the world juniors, his last season in the WHL … it's going to be exciting to watch him push for a spot."

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