Juuso Valimaki was scouted to go somewhere between 13th-20th overall in the NHL draft back in 2017. When draft day came, he was drafted 16th overall by the Calgary Flames, showing promise to be a top-four defenceman.
After a couple of strong years in the WHL with the Tri-City Americans, putting up 61 points in 60 games followed by 45 points in 43 games, the hype for Valimaki sky rocket amongst the Flames fanbase and organization, marking him down with potential to be a top pairing defender when his development is fully completed.
The Flames organization even thought so highly of him, that they didn’t want to include him in a package for star forward Mark Stone back at the 2019 trade deadline. With being plagued with injuries along with some discouraging play, Valimaki’s potential to be a top-pairing defenceman has dwindled down season by season.
Valimaki’s injury problems
Ever since the 2018–19 season, Valimaki has had his fair share of injuries. He suffered a high ankle sprain in 2019 which limited him to only playing 24 games in the NHL that year. In the summer of 2019, Valimaki received a torn ACL during offseason training, and sat out the entire 2019–20 season, hurting his development tremendously.
Thankfully, ever since he tore his ACL, Valimaki has only had a minor injury that occurred this prior season when he was in the AHL. He was sidelined for five games with a lower-body injury due to a hit he received from former Ontario Reign now Calgary Wrangler Brett Sutter.
Past season performances for Valimaki
Valimaki’s performance at the juniour level was very good, which contrasts his performance at the pro level—which at this point is still full of question marks. Valimaki put up 14 points in 20 games for the Stockton Heat back in 2018–19 and performed good enough to receive a call up to the Flames.
Valimaki’s first NHL stint in 2018–19 and injuries that followed
On his call up, Valimaki played 24 games for the Flames before suffering a high ankle sprain. In those 24 games, Valimaki showed flashes of skill and promise, while it wasn’t an amazing set of games, it wasn’t terrible either and he was still young.
Like I mentioned earlier, Valimaki went on to suffer a torn ACL in the summer of 2019 and miss the whole 2019–20 season. When he returned from said injury, the NHL was working out how to put on a season in the middle of a pandemic without losing and ton of money and too many outbreaks. Due to that, the Flames assigned Valimaki to Tampere Ilves of the Liiga to allow him to build his game coming off a terrible injury.
Valimaki was astounding in the 19 games he played, putting up 19 points in those games and looking like one of the best defenders in the Liiga. Before the season started, Valimaki’s name was being thrown out in Calder predictions because of his performance in Finland.
Valimaki’s second NHL stint from 2020–21 onwards
Eventually, the NHL season started and obviously Valimaki started in the Flames lineup. He played a total 49 games, being healthy scratched only a handful of times. In those 49 games, he posted 11 points still showing some promise but it was a disappointing season for a player who had so much hype surrounding him at the beginning of the season.
Going into the 2021–22 season, fans were hoping for Valimaki to step up and help fill the void left when Mark Giordano was selected by the Seattle Kraken. In the end, Oliver Kylington outperformed Valimaki in the preseason and received the chance to fill the void—which Kylington did very well.
Valimaki was healthy scratched quite a bit due to his lacklustre showings in the nine games he played. Eventually he was sent down to play for the Stockton Heat for the rest of the year. Valimaki only put up 18 points in 35 games, which seemed disappointing for the 2017 first-round pick.
This disappointing level of play led to him being pushed down the depth chart again, just like earlier in the season. This time it’d be his AHL teammate Connor Mackey outperforming him, who earned the midseason call-up over the Finn. Valimaki has continued to fall from grace since, and sadly enough, there’s no clear answer for when he is going to hit rock bottom of his career and instead turn it around.
Valimaki’s struggles continue to kick off the season
Fans were hoping that Valimaki would make us forget about the past few seasons and make a push for the opening night roster, but alas he has continued to struggle in the 2022–23 preseason. He’s made a handful of bad plays so far, which have either led to him being bailed out or worse—the opposing team scoring a goal. At this point, with all the struggles and disappointment, Valimaki’s future with the Flames is not clear.
The outlook on the future for Valimaki
There’s been talk amongst the fans of what the Flames should do with Valimaki. Trading him has been thrown out there, but the Flames would be lucky to fetch a mid-round pick for him at this point.
I’ve seen others suggest that maybe the Flames should just hold onto him and give him a one last good look before letting him go. While it seems harmless, I don’t like the idea. Taking away ice time from a more deserving player and making your team worse just to see if a struggling player will suddenly click with more ice time? Yeah, that’s a no from me.
In my mind, it seems inevitable that Valimaki will be cut in the upcoming days and be placed on waivers. There’s a good chance that he will be claimed by a team like Arizona or Buffalo, a team that’s willing to take a chance on a young, struggling player for free. Another possibility is he’s claimed by a team that wants to upgrade their defensive depth and a youthful player with little bit of potential left is intriguing. I think the possibility with the highest chance of happening is that he is put on waivers and goes unclaimed.
Valimaki has dealt with injuries his whole career, has been underwhelming at the pro level, and doesn’t look to be improving. He also carries a $1.55M cap hit. For a player who’s most likely to spend the season in the AHL or in the press box, most teams aren’t going to being lining up to take on his salary.
From top prospect to potentially clearing the waivers
Valimaki has continued to be underwhelming for someone who was once considered a top prospect. His injuries definitely impacted his development, but not as much as one might think. At this point of his career, Valimaki is showing little flashes of skill and potential and his career seems unsavable, at least in Calgary. When he is soon put on waivers, if he is to go unclaimed, that would not be a surprise to me.