Olli Juolevi continues to defy expectations, but not in a good way. The Vancouver Canucks’ first-round pick in 2016, No. 5 overall, was unable to win a roster spot with the team last season and was loaned back to his native Finland. So far this year, Juolevi had played exclusively with their AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets. Last month, the young defenseman suffered a knee injury, but was only expected to miss a couple of weeks. Juolevi even returned to practice with the Comets last week. Yet, the Canucks announced this evening that Juolevi underwent surgery on his knee today and will miss the remainder of the season.
Whether Juolevi’s knee injury was more severe than originally indicated or whether the team was simply playing it safe, the fact of the matter is that the recent top-five pick will go yet another season without making his NHL debut and could wait even longer. Vancouver does expect that he will make a full recovery by training camp, but in no way is he guaranteed a roster spot and will most likely have to prove that he is game-ready by beginning another season in the minors. The team press release stated that the Canucks’ medical staff felt that “surgery was… the best option for Juolevi’s long-term health and career”, but the decision also must have weighed whether or not the team felt they would need him this season or early next season, with the answer apparently being no.
If there was any question as to whether University of Michigan defenseman Quinn Hughes had bypassed Juolevi as Vancouver’s top defensive prospect, that debate is now over. Hughes, the seventh overall pick in June, is expected to step into a starting role with Canucks next season, if not sooner. Meanwhile, Juolevi’s future is a question mark, with his development now marred by injury in addition to underwhelming performance.