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Juuso Valimaki not deterred by long odds of making Flames

Defenseman taken with No. 16 pick of 2017 NHL Draft confident he can earn roster spot this season

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

CALGARY -- Calgary Flames defenseman prospect Juuso Valimaki knows his odds of playing in the NHL this season are long.

That's not stopping the No. 16 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft from dreaming about getting there though.

"I'm doing everything that I can to play with the Calgary Flames [in 2017-18]," said Valimaki, who had 61 points (19 goals, 42 assists) in 60 games with Tri-City of the Western Hockey League last season. "That's where my goal is right now. But it's not the end of the world if I still play in junior. I'm working to play in the NHL."

Valimaki (6-foot-2, 204 pounds) understands there are certain things he needs to do to reach the NHL, and that's why he'll be OK with another season in the WHL. It's a level of patience he learned last season leading up to the draft.

"Sometimes I feel maybe it's a big process in your life, going through your draft year," he said last week. "Sometimes you might feel like you've got to do everything right now, every single shift. … After all that, I feel like you've just got to stay patient and just focus on the work. I'm just focused on my work."

Valimaki, 18, had a chance to impress during Calgary's July 4-7 development camp. His next chance will come at rookie camp and the Young Stars Classic prospect tournament in Penticton, British Columbia, Sept. 8-11. After that, there's training camp.

Though the Flames have had forwards Sean Monahan (No. 6, 2013), Sam Bennett (No. 4, 2014) and Matthew Tkachuk (No. 6, 2016) play in the NHL the season after being drafted, assistant general manager Craig Conroy doesn't expect Valimaki to follow them.

"You look at Sam and Monahan and Tkachuk … those were high picks," Conroy said. "We know what we have. This division is a tough division, and he's the perfect type player we're looking for. We loved him. We thought he might be gone when No. 16 comes. He can skate. He's got good skill with the puck. He does everything we're looking for in a defenseman at the NHL level."

Just not necessarily next season. The Flames have the luxury of remaining patient with Valimaki's development. Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone, Calgary's top five defensemen, are signed through at least the 2019-20 season, and prospects like Brett Kulak, Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson are older and further in their development.

Still, Valimaki is hoping he doesn't need too long to get to Calgary full-time.

"You've just got to work as hard as you can and enjoy the experience," he said.

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