By Torie Peterson
Juuso Valimaki has one goal heading into this season.
“My mindset is to make the big club. That’s my plan,” he told CalgaryFlames.com earlier this summer. “That’s what I’m focused on. That’s what I want to do. It’s pretty simple.”
Lofty ambitions for a defenceman drafted just over 12 months ago but the Finn’s expectations for himself are rooted in a realistic view of his progression since being selected 16th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft.
After an impressive showing at the Flames’ 2017 development camp and last fall’s Young Stars Classic in Penticton, he held his own during 2017-18 pre-season action.
After being assigned back to the WHL after a lengthy stay at the Flames’ main camp, Valimaki anchored the Tri-City Americans blueline, scoring 14 goals and putting up 45 points in 43 regular-season games. In the playoffs, he averaged 1.42 points-per-game with 17 in 12 skates.
Those experiences have provided him with an excellent springboard into the 2018-19 campaign, bolstering his confidence heading into next month’s camp.
“(You’ve got to) enjoy it … don’t take too much pressure from it. Just try to play my game and every day, do the best I can. Try to prove that I belong there and compete – just do everything I can.
“Even last year’s camp, last year’s pre-season games and that experience gave me a lot. Coming into this fall, it will be a little bit easier – knowing the guys, knowing (what) they do and how the game is there. It obviously gave me a lot of confidence during the year.
“The world juniors was a good experience and I got to play more playoff games with Tri-City, too. Obviously those are the best games and you learn from those.”
While pre-season action is a far cry from the regular season, getting a taste of playing against NHL veterans last fall helped him evaluate where his game’s at.
“The experience last year – playing it, actually feeling the game, playing against and with the players who are there in the league. I think that probably helped me the most and it’s easier going into this year, knowing a little bit more than on the first year.”
With the goal of earning a spot on the Flames’ Oct. 3 roster in mind, Valimaki has focused on shoring up his play in his own zone.
“Probably the defensive side – the box-outs and that kind of stuff, playing against the best players in the world. It will be a lot different than the junior guys and that will probably be a big thing.,” he said.
“What I noticed last year, playing in the pre-season games, there’s not much time with the puck. You’ve got to move it quick.
“Just keeping working that, that’s what I’ve got to do.”