Sami Salo was the king of witty one-liners when he chose to engage the Vancouver media.
The former Canucks defenceman was also the sultan of the slapshot and those two characteristics came to the forefront Tuesday in opening day of the National Hockey League club’s development camp at UBC.
Not only is Salo here as a guest coach — which means he has to speak to the media masses — he’ll be an assistant for his native Finland in the next world junior hockey championship. He’s also an assistant with his hometown TPS Turku of the Finnish elite SM-liiga.
Salo’s top defensive world junior pairing could be Olli Juolevi and Miro Heiskanen and he’ll be giving Juolevi, the Canucks’ fifth-overall pick in the 2016 draft, extra instruction this summer at a world junior training camp to improve his slapshot.
If the Canucks envision the dynamic Swedish duo of Jonathan Dahlen and Elias Pettersson eventually evolving into something resembling the Sedins 2.0, it’s not a stretch to suggest that Juolevi could be Salo 2.0 — minus the 40 career injuries.
“He’s very poised with the puck, which is a great asset for a defenceman,” said the 42-year-old Salo. “When he tries to break out, he doesn’t get rattled because he skates well and sees the ice well.
“But he’s still a young kid and there’s lots of work ahead to be put in to make the jump to the NHL.”
And that would be quite the leap this fall.
Juolevi, 19, is too young to be assigned to the American Hockey League and has little to prove by returning to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League for a third season. And Salo, who also coaches pro in Finland, suggested that playing in a men’s league in Europe might be an option if Juolevi doesn’t crack a Canucks’ back end that is now 10 deep following free agency.
“Of course I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t make the Canucks team — I was disappointed last year,” said Juolevi, who appeared in two NHL pre-season games last fall. “You have to try and be confident. If you’re not, you can’t do what you need to do to show your best.
“I like to be with the puck and if you have no confidence, it looks pretty bad. Sometimes stuff happens, but I need to be ready from Day 1 (main camp). That’s the plan. You have to be ready to beat guys and take their spots.
“I see myself mostly as an all-round defenceman in the NHL. At my best, I can play PP (power play) and PK (penalty kill) and I don’t just want to be an offensive guy. I want to take care of my team and help it.”
After scoring 10 goals and adding 32 assists last season, and also playing in the world junior, the 6-3 Helsinki native needed to add strength to a 179-pound frame. He was purposely kept from further competition when his junior season ended.
Juolevi hit the gym and the recent buzz was that he had hit 200 pounds. Well, not quite.
“It’s almost there and I don’t know the exact number,” said Juolevi. “The 179 was a little low and even last year, I was higher than that. I knew I had to get bigger and stronger.”
Part of that is soaking up Salo’s direction and encouragement because it’s a crash course on getting to the NHL. Salo never got enough credit for how well he played in his own zone in 394 games with the Canucks, how he tried to play through injury and how his howitzer of a slapshot helped the Canucks advance to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
“He was a good D-man and special in Vancouver and had a good career here,” added Juolevi.
“I really liked the way he played and he was obviously bigger and stronger and tougher than me. But he was always a good team player.”
Salo also terrorized the opposition because he put everything behind his slapper. It became urban legend in Vancouver when he tore a gluteus medius muscle is his posterior during the 2009 playoffs and actually scored on the play.
And in Game 4 of the Western Conference final series, he hammered home a pair of 5-on-3 goals from the high slot in a span of 16 seconds to set a franchise record and also equal the league’s mark for the fastest two power-play goals.
All that is not lost on Juolevi who didn’t have the power in junior to intimidate. He knows in today’s game it’s more about finding a lane and getting pucks through. When Salo played, players dove out of the way. Now they clog the shooting lanes.
Still, in the 2012 Canucks Super Skills competition, Salo unloaded a 102.5 mile-per-hour bomb. Word got around. Duck.
“You can always work on your shot every day,” said Juolevi. “I’m sure Salo is going to give me some pretty good tips.”
The best one came Tuesday.
“It is possible to improve your shot? Absolutely,” said Salo, who scored 56 goals with the Canucks, including a career-high 14 in the 2006-07 season. “But it takes a lot of repetition and it’s not just shooting 20 pucks before practice and 20 after — that’s not going to cut it.”
CLICK HERE to report a typo.
Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org