Canucks opt to bolster blue line, select Olli Juolevi fifth overall

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In January, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning declared his intentions that he’d like to take a defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft.

On Friday, that’s exactly what he did.

After the Columbus Blue Jackets made waves by taking Pierre-Luc Dubois at third overall and the Edmonton Oilers had Jesse Puljujarvi fall into their lap at fourth overall, the Canucks opted to bolster their blue line by selecting Olli Juolevi at fifth overall.

This season in the Ontario Hockey League, Juolevi scored nine goals and 42 points in 57 games with the London Knights. He followed that up with 14 points in 18 playoff games.

From Ryan Kennedy, in PHT’s Get To Know a Draft Pick segment:

“Intelligent, smooth with the puck and blessed with pretty good size, Juolevi models his game after Hampus Lindholm and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Juolevi was an all-star at the world juniors, where he helped the Finns win gold at Hartwall Arena, his dream rink as a kid in Helsinki.

By taking the Finnish defenseman, the Canucks decided to pass on forward Matthew Tkachuk.

For the first time since 2005, the Canucks have selected a defenseman in the first round.

That year, they took Luc Bourdon, however he tragically lost his life in a motorcycle accident at the age of 21.

A true stud for a No. 1 defenseman is something you can argue the Canucks are lacking and have been for years, even decades.

Interesting to note that Benning admitted he wasn’t sure if there was a true No. 1 defenseman in the opening round of this year’s draft, but can Juolevi eventually evolve into a top-pairing defenseman?

Benning seems optimistic, especially after watching Juolevi play for Finland as a 17-year-old at the world juniors, recording nine assists in seven games.

“He’s a high hockey sense guy. In his own end, we call it defensive awareness where he uses his hockey sense to get in lanes, to put sticks in lanes. He gets the puck and he can move it up ice fast,” said Benning, as per TSN 1040.

“He’s the new style of transitional defenseman that we’re seeing a lot of in today’s game.”

It’s the second high-profile move Benning has made this off-season to help build their defensive corps. Earlier he moved rookie forward Jared McCann and a second-round pick to the Florida Panthers for Erik Gudbranson, who can now slot into their top-four mix.

The Canucks’ defense now includes Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, Ben Hutton and Gudbranson in the top four, while their bottom five through seven — with Luca Sbisa, Nikita Tryamkin, Andrey Pedan and Alex Biega vying for spots — is a work in progress and needs improvement.

They also needed to stock up on more defensemen in their prospect pool, which right now includes Jordan Subban and Troy Stecher, among others.

Matt Bartkowski and Yannick Weber, pending unrestricted free agents, will not be back in Vancouver next season. Dan Hamhuis is also a pending UFA.