It’s easy to get excited about Calgary Flames defenseman Juuso Valimaki. During this truncated 2020-21 season he’s shown flashes of brilliance, but he’s also made some cringe-worthy gaffes. With the Flames out of the playoff mix, many have wondered why Valimaki’s not playing more.
During Thursday’s pre-game media availability, head coach Darryl Sutter provided some detailed thoughts about Valimaki’s situation.
What does Valimaki need to do to get into the lineup and stay there?
He’s 23 years old. We have a really young defense. You take Gio and Chris [Tanev] and Stoney out for that, you’re playing three really young guys. He’s in the same age group as Rasmus [Andersson] and Kylington and Connor [Mackey], they’re the same age group, They’re going to play their 15, 16 minutes a game when they get in, and hopefully they get in back to backs, and that’s what you want.
He’s played a lot of games and a lot of hockey this year. Irregardless of where he was picked and irregardless of injury and all that, there’s an experience factor there and there’s a development factor and who he’s on the ice against factor. His game-to-game preparation and game-to-game consistency, it all comes into it. He’s a really young player with lots of growth. So, what’s he got to do? When he gets in there, just get in there and play, that’s all.
Sutter has coached a lot of young defensemen and Valimaki lost a big chunk of his first two pro seasons to injury. Sutter was asked what the biggest challenge would be for Valimaki losing those key developmental periods to injury.
I think just getting past that and getting over it mentally, which he should be now. I mean, he’s played a lot of games this year if you look at the context of how many games there was to play. He’s played a lot of games. He’s going to play 50 games this year, which is significant. I think then becoming… it’s not just playing in the league, it’s being effective in the league in terms of what your role is. He went from a guy in junior who played basically the whole game and probably just was allowed to do what he was allowed to do because of his size at that time and playing junior hockey, but once you take the next step, playing against men, it’s a lot tougher to stay in the lineup and then succeed.
There’s a whole package there that has to come together and i think it will over time, but you have to look at the steps. You can’t just look at he was this or he’s that, it’s where he’s going to fit in, what his role’s going to be, how he can be effective in the league, working on his skillset – the skating part of it, the shooting part of it, the passing part of it – they’re all areas that are in that 75-80%. It’s not close to being all the way there yet.
For those of you counting, Valimaki has played 47 of Calgary’s 53 games – and has nine points in those games. For him to reach 50 games, he’d need to play the three remaining games against Vancouver.
The Flames are back in action on Sunday night.