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Valimaki hoping to make jump to Flames from junior hockey

Defenseman prospect 'built like an NHL player already,' says Calgary assistant GM

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

CALGARY -- Juuso Valimaki knows his days of junior hockey are over.

The Calgary Flames defenseman prospect isn't sure where he'll land next, but Valimaki is hoping to begin his professional journey in Calgary.

"I can be pretty hard on myself honestly, but I've kind of learned to do everything I can and see where it takes me," said Valimaki, who has starred the past three seasons with Tri-City of the Western Hockey League. "That's kind of my mindset now. I'm going to do everything I can and see what happens, but obviously my goal is to play with the big club."

Valimaki, the No. 16 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, isn't far off.

Video: Flames draft D Juuso Valimaki No. 16

He had 45 points (14 goals, 31 assists) in 43 games with Tri-City last season, and had 138 points (40 goals, 98 assists) in 159 career WHL games. He was named to the WHL Western Conference Second All-Star Team twice in his three seasons.

His next challenge lies as a pro, whether it be with the Flames or in Stockton of the American Hockey League.

"He's built like an NHL player already," Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy said. "The way he plays the game, he's mobile, he jumps in the play, he's got great offensive instincts, he defends well, he's hard to beat, he has a good stick. You can go on and on about all the positive things he does.

"Is it going to be an adjustment? Playing defense in the NHL for a young guy is the toughest position. It's the biggest adjustment … the speed and strength and everything that goes into it. I expect him to look really good in main camp, but it might take some time. The one thing you don't want to do is rush a guy who is not ready."

Calgary won't have to push Valimaki into the lineup this fall. The Flames have five defensemen signed to one-way contracts this season and still have to sign restricted free agents Noah Hanifin and Brett Kulak.

Valimaki, 19, also would need to leapfrog over older, more established pro prospects in Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington.

He's not short on confidence, though, entering his second camp with Calgary.

"I just have to do everything I can to be as good as I can be come September and fight for a spot," Valimaki said. "Last year was my first games, especially preseason games playing against NHL guys. Now I know what to expect and how to play. It helps a lot now. I'm a little more confident."

According to Conroy, Valimaki has reason to be.

"The one thing in his mind … he wants to be on that team come October, but if he doesn't, to go to the American Hockey League isn't a bad thing," Conroy said.

"The one thing you don't want to do is rush a guy who is not ready. You want him to go on that right curve. Just watching him, his season and what he did in the [2018 IIHF World Junior Championship as Finland's captain], and his mental makeup…he acts older than he really is, he has that maturity already.

"I definitely see him playing (NHL) games next year at some point."

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