Sami Salo is anxious to work with Olli Juolevi

Pass it to Bulis

A year ago, Olli Juolevi weighed in at Canucks development camp at 179 lbs. His weight this year was the talk of the camp: according to Jim Benning, Juolevi is now up to 198 lbs.

While getting bigger and stronger will help his cause when he pushes for a roster spot in the fall, he’s still a far cry from the other Finnish defenceman at camp: Sami Salo, who is still physically imposing three years after retiring from the NHL.

“You forget how big he is,” says Trevor Linden, laughing as he reflects on seeing Salo back on the ice with the Canucks. “It’s awesome. He’s one of my favourite guys.”

Salo is one of everyone’s favourite guys — he is, after all, your pal-o — but how did he end up as a coach at Canucks development camp? Is he joining the Canucks coaching staff?

Unfortunately, no. Salo is on hand at development camp as a guest coach, assisting Trent Cull, Nolan Baumgartner, and the other coaches by providing tips and insights from his 15-year playing career.

Salo may be new to coaching — he’s been an assistant coach for just one season in the top Finnish league with his hometown team TPS — but he has quickly established himself in Finland. He’ll be an assistant coach for Team Finland at the upcoming World Junior Championships.

While Finland will be hoping that Juolevi and his experience at two previous World Juniors will be available for the tournament, he has his sights set on just one thing.

“My biggest goal is to make the Canucks at training camp,” says Juolevi, and it’s clear that the logjam at defence doesn’t phase him. “That’s one thing I learned from last year. There’s going to be a ton of good players. Even the players who might play in the AHL, they are really good hockey players and you have to be ready to beat them and take their spot.”

In an ironic twist, it may be Salo himself that helps him make the Canucks, thereby potentially removing him from the Finnish roster. While Salo is in Vancouver to work with all of the defencemen at camp, Juolevi will likely get some extra attention as the Canucks top prospect on defence.

“I’ll work with him this week,” says Salo, “then obviously he’s part of our world junior group, so we have training coming up in a few weeks. I’m anxious to work with Olli and help him out the best I can.”

One of the areas where Salo can help most is his shot. Salo is famed for his cannon of a slap shot that frequently sent opponents diving for cover like he was Fulton Reed. Juolevi has a decent shot, and is capable of threading it through traffic to get it on net, but it’s definitely an area where he could use some work.

“Sami had a god-given gift to rip the puck. I don’t know that you can necessarily teach that,” says Linden, but Juolevi wants to try to get close.

“A lot of it is technique, says Juolevi. “He’s a little bit bigger than me and stronger, I don’t know if I’m ever going to have the slap shot that he had, but technique-wise, I want to be closer [to him].”

“Is it possible to improve? Absolutely,” says Salo, “but it takes a lot of repetitions. It’s not just shooting 20 pucks before practice and 20 after, that’s not going to cut it. You have to put a lot of work into it.”

Reflecting on the work that went into developing his own shot, Salo says, “It was a lot. It wasn’t just on-ice shooting, it was off-ice shooting, and then doing some off-ice training to help your muscles.”

Unfortunately, one element of Salo’s shot, beyond his size, is beyond the reach of Juolevi. “A big thing for me,” says Salo, “is that I played tennis competitively until I was 16 and getting that body control for shooting helped me a lot as well.”

Would Salo advise Juolevi to take up tennis?

“No, I would not,” he laughs. “I think at his age already, that train has passed.”

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