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Olli Juolevi 'there to show how good I am'

Canucks defense prospect aiming for NHL roster spot

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

PENTICTON, British Columbia -- Defenseman Olli Juolevi isn't going to have a hard time turning off the fan in him when Vancouver Canucks training camp starts Friday.

He'll be all business.

Juolevi, 18, is three months removed from the Canucks selecting him with the No. 5 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, but he won't let his youth get in the way of his desire to earn a roster spot.

"That's the biggest thing," Juolevi said. "You're not like a fan anymore. You're a player. You're equal with those guys, and you have to be better than those guys. It's a new thing, but it's super cool and I'm super excited for that challenge.

"I love to play hockey so it's cool to go there and show how good I am and play with those guys. I don't think there's going to be any problems going there and be a fan. I'm there to show how good I am."

Juolevi (6-foot-2, 182 pounds), who arrived in Vancouver a few days in advance of rookie camp with the Canucks last week, got any awe out of the way when he participated in informal skates with much of the personnel that will comprise the NHL roster this season.

"It's pretty cool when you're actually on the ice with those guys you've been watching through your young career," he said. "It's really cool. It doesn't even feel real.

Video: Juolevi interview video

"When I went there, there was Alexandre Burrows. I remember when [the Canucks] played in the [2011] Stanley Cup [Final] and he had a great year. [Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin] are playing in the World Cup, but if I'm still there when they're there … it's pretty amazing. Those guys have been playing in the NHL since before I was even born, pretty much.

"It's super exciting. … Everyone wants to battle for a spot. There's only six defensemen on a roster, and a couple more.

"There's not that many guys, but I want to be one of them. I want to help the team."

But there's no rush to have him to do so, according to Canucks general manager Jim Benning.

"He's 18 years old," Benning said. "As we get going to camp he's going to look real good because he's such a smart player. But we're going to be careful with him. He's going to be a good player for us for a long time, so we're going to be careful with him and his development.

"When we talk about development, I think with goalies you've got to make sure that they're ready, and defense is the next hardest position to develop. Forwards … it's easiest to put a young forward in because they don't have the defensive responsibility that defensemen and goalies have.

"I think he needs to get physically stronger, but he's still an 18-year-old kid. He's going to be coming to camp and we're going to get a good look at him."

Benning and the Canucks had ample opportunity to do so before drafting him.

Juolevi had nine goals and 42 points in 57 regular-season games for London of the Ontario Hockey League last season, and earned OHL Second All-Rookie Team and OHL Third All-Star Team honors. He had three goals and 14 points in 18 OHL playoff games to help London win the league championship, and was named a tournament all-star after London the Memorial Cup.

He also helped Finland win the gold medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. Juolevi led defensemen with nine assists in seven games and was named to the tournament All-Star Team.

"Now the biggest goal is to take the [NHL] roster spot," he said. "That's the huge thing. I hope I'm going to achieve that. You never know. If not, then I have to make new goals.

"Right now my only goal is to make the roster."

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