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The 18-year-old earned high praise from Ryan Huska after Friday's game

by TORIE PETERSON @ToriePeterson /

PENTICTON, B.C. - Following his first game at the Young Stars Classic, Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska didn't mince words about 2017 first-round pick Juuso Valimaki.

"In my opinion, he was our best player on the ice tonight," Huska assessed following the Flames' 4-2 setback to the Oilers on Friday evening.

Valimaki, skating alongside Rasmus Andersson in a top pairing role, scored the first goal at the tournament and never looked out of place.

"He was one of the guys that when you step back or you're standing on the bench watching guys play, he was noticeable almost every shift," Huska continued. "We talked about that …. that's the way you have to play here. You have to make sure people recognize your name and the number on your back. You have to do something all the time.

"I thought he played really well in a lot of different areas."

After the summer Valimaki has had, it probably shouldn't be a surprise that he has headed into prospect camp on a high.

Selected 16th overall in the NHL Draft in Chicago, Valimaki turned heads at the Flames' development camp in July as one of the top defenceman in attendance despite being one of the youngest players on the ice.

He followed that up with an incredible showing at the World Junior Summer Showcase and ended up being named Finland's captain for the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"It means a lot, for sure. It's a huge honour. Even the fact that I'm playing for Team Finland, it's always an honour. To be named the captain, it's something special."

Add in a few visits to his native Nokia, Finland along the way and it has been a whirlwind of a summer.

"I was pretty busy, I was all over the world. I travelled here to North America three times over the summer so it was lots of traveling. But it's always nice to spend some time with my family and being in Finland, enjoying that time, but with a lot of hard work for sure.

"I'm just happier a little bit. I'm just trying to enjoy it all. That's probably the only thing (that's different) - it's still the same life, playing hockey and working hard."

Now, the focus is on making as much of an impression as he can ahead of the Flames' main camp next week. With the club's depth on the blueline, making the roster in Calgary is a long-shot for the youngster but that hasn't hampered his ambition and desire to impress the organization's coaching staff and hockey operations crew.

"The meeting that we had at the hotel, with Brad (Treliving) and all the guys, they just said 'Go out there and show what you've got.' That's what I'm going to do. It's just a simple game - it's the same game here.

"I always have high expectations for myself so obviously I want to go out there and do everything I can, just be one of the best players on the ice."   

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