Hockey fans flocked to the Vancouver Canucks development camp at Shawnigan Lake School this week just to get a glimpse of the future of their favourite NHL team.
A few specific prospects, however, got a little more scrutiny than others, including Olli Juolevi, the smooth-skating Finnish defenceman the Canucks picked fifth overall in the NHL Entry Draft on June 24.
Like most of the team’s other elite prospects — such as forward Brock Boeser and goalie Thatcher Demko — Juolevi is still probably at least a year away from cracking the Canucks lineup, but fans were impressed with what he brought to the rink at Shawnigan. Juolevi is confident about his abilities, but knows he has some work to do to get to the next level.
“I’m a puck-mover,” the blueliner said. “That’s my strongest asset. That and my hockey sense, how I see the ice.”
Offence might be Juolevi’s game, but he believes he can be an all-around player.
“I want to play in all situations, penalty kill, power play,” he said. “The offensive thing is my biggest hope, but I want to be a complete player. I want to improve overall. Strength is the biggest thing for me [to improve on].”
He doesn’t want to bulk up too much, however.
“I don’t want to lose my smoothness on the ice,” Juolevi elaborated. “I don’t want to get fat and slow on the ice.”
Juolevi helped Finland win the World Junior Championship in January, and was part of the London Knights’ Memorial Cup championship team in May. He was named an all-star at both tournaments.
The camp at Shawnigan was just part of the whirlwind experience Juolevi had been through in the last couple of weeks. Since draft day, when he had no idea which team would scoop him up, Juolevi has been through an almost non-stop gauntlet of on-ice sessions and media scrums. The time at Shawnigan, he said, has been fun, and the hockey fans who came out were great.
Juolevi will head back to Finland for the rest of the summer to prepare for the Canucks training camp in September, when he will do his best to make the team full-time.
“Everybody wants to make the team,” he said. “Who knows what’s going to happen. We haven’t talked about those things yet.”
Juolevi is just one of the Vancouver hopefuls who impressed head coach Willie Desjardins at camp, including Boeser, Demko, Guillaume Brisebois and Will Lockwood. The coach was pleased to get a look at the future of the club.
“We have lots of young prospects,” he said. “It’s always exciting to see the young guys, how they’re coming along, how hard they’re working. This is our first look at some of these guys, and I’m excited.”
For goalie Michael Garteig, the Shawnigan camp marked his first outing as a Canucks prospect since the team signed him out of Quinnipiac University in April. A Prince George product who played three seasons in the B.C. Hockey League before going to the college ranks, Garteig was excited to be back in his home province.
“I felt wanted by Vancouver, and coming home to B.C. was obviously a huge goal for me,” he said of his decision to sign with the Canucks after a stellar college career. “Wearing the Vancouver logo means a lot to me and my family and friends.”
Garteig knows that the Canucks’ NHL jobs are locked up by Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom, and that he will be battling Demko for playing time on the farm, but the depth chart doesn’t intimidate him.
“I’m going to do what I can to get where I want to be,” he said. “The way I am and the way I work, I’m a hard-working guy who’s always started at the bottom. My work ethic is my greatest strength.”
A longtime devotee of the Canucks, Garteig said it was “cool” getting calls from general manager Trevor Linden and goalie coach Dan Cloutier when the Canucks were pursuing him.
“I grew up a hockey fan in general,” he said. “When you’re from B.C., how can you not be a Canucks fan? Growing up, they were on every TV in the house. I loved Naslund and Bertuzzi and Morrison. Those years were fun to watch.”
Although he grew up in Prince George, coming back to Vancouver Island was still something of a homecoming for Garteig, whose grandparents lived in Duncan and Nanaimo. He also played two years for the Powell River Kings in the BCHL’s Island Division.
“I spent a lot of my childhood on the Island, so it’s pretty cool, pretty exciting to be back,” he said.
Garteig, who roomed with fellow goalie Demko, compared having the camp at Shawnigan to being back on a college campus.
“It’s nice because the guys are always together,” he said.
Desjardins was also pleased with the atmosphere at the prestigious school.
“It’s such a good facility.,” he said. “When you get to go to a place like this where there is so much tradition, I think it’s good for the young guys to be around that.”