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VALIMAKI EAGER FOR FIRST PRE-SEASON TILT

The 2017 first rounder will suit up tonight in Calgary

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

In the lengthy 'There's no such thing as …' catalogue (along with: a just war, a free lunch, bad publicity, a perfect relationship etc.), one Alberta-specific listed entry can be found:

There is no such thing as an 'exhibition' game against the Edmonton Oilers.

Not in an emotional, competitive sense, anyway.

Oh, some skirmishes against the big Oil Drop are more vital than others in terms points or positioning, certainly.

But always, always - regardless of venue or date on the calendar - there remains an underlying current of added intensity/animosity.

Hey, the jerseys may be streamlined Adidas now, but those logos and colour schemes haven't changed one iota.

So Juuso Valimaki might as well become acclimatized to the fact right off the hop. 

Because the Flames anticipate him playing in dozens of these in the seasons to come.

"For me, it's not just an exhibition game,'' said Valimaki following a late morning skate Monday, about six and a half hours prior to puck-drop. "You always want to play your best, play your hardest.

"Especially here with these guys. My first game, in the Saddledome. That's exciting. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment. This is the most important game for me so far in the season."

The rangy top pick will be among the players to watch this evening, in the southern half of the split-squad, doubleheader. Valimaki's slated to partner Oliver Kylington on defence tonight.

"It's been great,'' he enthuses. "A fun, fun time for me. First games with that jersey on in Penticton. And now, here, picking up little things from the veteran guys. How they warm-up. How they handle themselves. I'm always paying attention.

"I feel pretty ready. I played those three games (at the Young Stars Classic). I played a couple games in Finland and I played the World Junior Summer Showcase, so I've played a lot of hockey already.

"So I kinda feel like myself again. I'm pretty confident."

The jump up in class since main camp opened hasn't overwhelmed the soon-to-be-19-year-old from Nokia, Finland.

"I thought,'' adjudged Flames' GM Brad Treliving, "that his best day so far was (Sunday). I just thought he was cleaner with the puck. He'd almost looked a little tired. He's played a lot of hockey.

"I thought he was one of the best players at rookie camp. There was a little nervousness, bound to be, but he's settled in now. It hasn't been too much for him in terms of the wow factor. 

"He's big, he can skate, he can think at this level. It's just a matter of getting comfortable.

"Physically, he's 210 pounds so it's not too much for him. Just getting up to the speed and the pace I thought he's gotten better as we've gone along here."

Given the split squad format and early of camp, it's highly unlikely reigning Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid will be here this evening.

"Honestly,'' Valimaki conceded, when asked if he'd rather the Oilers' precocious captain had made the junket south, "a little bit. I guess it really doesn't matter. I'd play the same way whether he's here or not.

"But it'd be pretty cool to see him."

Plenty of time for over the coming seasons.

Right now, with a Saddledome baptism to mark and a management/coaching group to impress, has plenty on his plate.

"The next week or two is when you get a better read at where he's at,'' said Treliving. "Get past the split-squad games, start thinning things down … This is a very young guy but when you get him around smart guys, like-minded players, that's when I think he'll shine.

"He's big enough, strong enough. So I think he'll play better with that upgrade in competition.

"We obviously think he's a heckuva prospect. So it's going to be interesting watching him in these games."

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