Each week, I will be taking a look at member of the Calgary Flames prospect pool, where I will go in depth about their season, what the Flames saw in them to either draft, sign or trade for them and what role they could potentially play on the team once they reach the big club.
I will be starting with an easy assignment to begin this exercise, as I will be taking a look at 2017 first rounder Jusso Valimaki. He is on the Flames roster, playing regular third pairing minutes with Nikita Nesterov, but he has still played less than 50 career NHL games, so I still consider him a prospect.
I have been very intrigued with Valimaki since he was selected by the Flames on that afternoon in June on 2017. He grew up in Tampere, Finland and played for the Under-16 and Under-18 program with Ilves, based out of his hometown. He also represented Finland where he captained the U-16 national team while also playing for their U-17 team. His final stop before heading over to North America was with Ilves U-20 team in the 2014-15 season in the Jr. A SM-liiga, where he registered five goals and 15 assists for 20 points in 44 games. He also chipped in four points in 10 playoff games.
Valimaki was selected 14th overall by the Western Hockey League's Tri-City Americans in the 2015 Canadian Hockey League Import draft, where he suited up for three seasons with the team, playing in 159 games and added 138 total points, placing him just under a point-per-game with 0.86. He represented Finland at the 2017 and 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships, playing in 11 total games where he tallied six points. He was the team captain in 2018.
He was selected 16th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Flames and it's easy to see why Calgary thought as highly as they did of the now 22-year-old defenceman. His pre-draft scouting reports read as such: Futureconsiderations.ca said said he has "good vision and puck moving ability, has no panic to his game and waits for his options" while Hockeyprospects.com believe that Valimaki is a "highly skilled puck-handler and he utilizes his reach and size effectively". I believe these comments still range true to Valimaki's game as he looks calm and confident with the puck at the NHL level.
Valimaki has looked like a solid, regular NHL contributor that should come with some offensive upside once he gets more minutes and is more comfortable with the pace of the game that the league brings. He currently has suited up for 27 career games with the Flames, where he has three points in those contests, albeit it playing limited minutes in the majority of them. We've seen him produce offence at every level, including the AHL where he came back post ankle injury during the 2018-19 season and put up 14 points in 20 games as well as his recent loaning to Ilves of Liiga, scoring at a point per game clip in 19 games.
I don't think we'll see Valimaki's point totals reach that level of dominance, but I could see him growing into becoming a top four defenceman with a ceiling of regular 25-30 point campaigns with the Flames, while still being reliable in his own zone. I think that aspect of his game is underrated. He's had his moments of struggles defensively, but that comes with being a young defender that's playing against the best players in the world. He has good positioning, is a great skater and very rarely takes a penalty for having a careless stick or putting himself out of position. That's exactly what you want from one of your rearguards. I still believe there is a ton of untapped potential to be seen from number six in the years moving forward.
He has been hampered by ankle and knee injuries that has forced him to miss long stretches of time, including all of the 2019-20 season when he suffered a torn ACL before training camp, which I think could be the only thing that limits him moving forward. If you can't stay healthy, it's almost impossible for your game to progress to the next level because you're constantly rehabbing injuries that keep you off the ice. Both injuries were kind of flukey, but it is almost mandatory for Valimaki to avoid the long injury bug. He is the undisputed number one prospect in the Flames system with the likes of Dillon Dube and Rasmus Andersson having graduated full-time to the Flames, so if he can continue the trajectory set out for him prior to his injury woes, I think the Flames might have gotten one of the steals of that 2017 draft class.