Olli Juolevi is settling in and adapting to life in Central New York.
The 20-year-old Utica Comets defenseman from Finland is also finding a groove on the ice in his first professional season in North America.
“I’m very happy with how things have (gone),” Juolevi said following Tuesday’s practice. “Every game I’ve been better and more comfortable with the system they want to play. Obviously, I’m getting to know the guys more … and how they play. I think it has been good.”
Juolevi, who said he feels fine after minor back surgery in June, has stepped in and shown poise while playing key minutes for Utica. He’s formed a solid top pairing with second-year defenseman Jalen Chatfield, has gotten penalty kill experience and has a lead role on the team’s power play unit – which ranks third-best at 31.4 percent entering Tuesday.
“I think Olli has done a really good job,” Comets coach Trent Cull said. “For a young guy, he’s played a lot of minutes for us, and he’s done some really good things. To show that he can be very much a good player for us at this level — this quickly — it is really boding well for his confidence.”
Juolevi has the opportunity to add to his game when Utica gets a visit from Charlotte on Wednesday.
Juolevi was the fifth overall pick of the Canucks, the Comets’ parent club, in 2016. After back-to-back 42-point seasons in juniors, Juolevi played last season for TPS Turku, a team in Finland’s top pro league based about two hours from his hometown of Helsinki.
There are substantial expectations that Juolevi can transition to the NHL and provide some scoring punch for Vancouver, which is looking for more offense from its defensemen.
Juolevi scored on the power play last Wednesday against Rochester when his shot from the point found its way through traffic. He’s set up power-play goals for Reid Boucher, Jonathan Dahlen and Zack MacEwen. Juolevi, who has a three-game point streak, is tied for first in points among AHL rookies.
“I think I can play in all situations,” said Juolevi. “I’m really happy that the coaching staff trusts me.”
Juolevi, who is 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds, has been receptive, Cull said.
“He’s going to get bigger and strong as time wears on,” Cull said. “He wants to hone his craft and make sure of his development. … Usually if they’re all in, they’re going to find a way to develop.”