Juolevi or Tkachuk: Did Canucks make a draft-day mistake?

Canucks fans got another look Saturday night at impressive Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk, who assisted on Mark Giordano's goal to force overtime in Vancouver, which bypassed the rookie last June to draft defence prospect Olli Juolevi.

Vancouver GM Jim Benning loves Juolevi's potential, but Tkachuk thriving in Calgary

Rookie sensation Matthew Tkachuk has thrived in Calgary, while Vancouver Canucks prospect Olli Juolevi has yet to play an NHL regular-season game. (Getty Images/The Canadian Press)

​The Vancouver Canucks' inconsistent offence and fading post-season hopes have fans in a foul mood.

Another assist by Calgary rookie forward Matthew Tkachuk in Saturday's 2-1 Canucks victory in overtime at Rogers Arena probably added to their frustration and sparked further debate among a sector of the fan base.

Should Vancouver, which ranked 28th of 30 teams averaging 2.31 goals per game entering Sunday night's tilt against Philadelphia, have drafted the rugged Tkachuk fifth overall — one spot before the Flames — ahead of defence prospect Olli Juolevi?

Tkachuk, 19, is fifth in NHL rookie scoring with 37 points, two behind team leader Mikael Backlund, while his plus-9 rating was second only on the Flames to defenceman Mark Giordano's plus-11.

The son of former NHL power forward Keith Tkachuk looks as though he has played in the league for years and has points in four of five games against the Canucks, posting a goal, three assists, 12 shots and is plus-6.

Juolevi, 18, has remained in junior for a second season with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights and has eight goals and 37 points in 45 games with a plus-17 rating.

"We think he could be a first-pairing defenceman for us for a long time," Canucks general manager Jim Benning told CBC Sports recently of the club's first-round selection at last June's draft.

Benning, who has watched the Finnish blue-liner "three or four times" this season," added Juolevi needs to get physically stronger but remains excited about his NHL future.

"We like his ability to transition the puck up ice, the poise he has with the puck, his defensive awareness and the way he reads the play," Benning said.

The third-year GM talks these days about a surplus of defencemen that includes Ben Hutton, Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin, all of whom are 23 or younger, and hinted he could look at moving some of the depth for another young forward before the March 1 trade deadline. Vancouver also has veteran Alex Edler, Luca Sbisa, Chris Tanev and the injured Erik Gudbranson.

And then there's the Helsinki-born Juolevi, one of the more mentally-ready youngsters that could have made the jump to the NHL this season, according to HockeyProspect.com director of scouting Mark Edwards.

"He's not a flashy player," said Edwards, who has watched Juolevi regularly over the past two seasons and earlier this winter at the world junior hockey championship in Montreal. "The more you watch him you realize how smart he is. He reads the ice so well, can read the forecheck and knows where to go with the puck."

Of Juolevi's 37 points, 17 have come on the power play when he has more ice to work with in the offensive zone and can either unleash a strong shot or use his vision and smarts to find an open teammate.

Ryan Pyette, who covers the Knights for the London Free Press, said Juolevi has become the team's steady, almost cautious, rearguard because of the team's mix of speed and flash on the back end with Victor Mete, Brandon Crawley and Mitch Vande Sompel, who was acquired from Oshawa a day before the OHL's Jan. 10 trade deadline.

Step forward

"He doesn't have to jump in the rush as much as last year and sometimes blends into the background," said Pyette. "Still, he's going to end up with almost identical offensive numbers [as last season's nine goals, 33 assists and 42 points]."

In recent weeks, Juolevi has taken a step forward in his development, Pyette noted, with strong individual play during games in which London trailed. He had a season-high 11 shots on goal in a 4-1 loss at Mississauga on Jan. 8 and another six on Feb. 4 in a 4-1 defeat to the hometown Spirit in Saginaw, Mich.

"You hear some people say Olli doesn't look as dynamic as last year," said Pyette, "but I would like to see how he finishes the season. I would expect he will really ramp it up down the stretch and open eyes again."

With 58 points, the Canucks trail Calgary by four for the second wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference. Winnipeg and Los Angeles have 61 points and 60, respectively.


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