He is, for now, just a face in the crowd.
Calgary Flames first-rounder Juuso Valimaki touched down in the Stampede City several days back, but the blonde blue-liner has yet to be singled out by any autograph-seeking, selfie-snapping hockey fans.
“Nobody has said on the street, ‘Oh, you’re this guy,’ ” Valimaki said. “But maybe that will happen someday — I don’t know.
If Valimaki achieves his lofty goal, it will happen ASAP.
After Tuesday’s medical exams and fitness testing at Flames’ development camp, the 18-year-old reiterated what he told reporters just moments after he was called to the stage at No. 16 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft — that his aim is to earn a full-time job at the Saddledome this fall.
That’s what every recent first-round holler — from Sean Monahan to Sam Bennett to Matthew Tkachuk — has proclaimed when they arrive for their first development camp, although Valimaki faces the longest odds of any of those newbies.
It’s no secret that teenage defencemen rarely make that jump immediately after being drafted. And as you’ve probably heard, the Flames’ back-end is suddenly stacked, arguably among the NHL’s best thanks to the trade acquisition of shutdown sort Travis Hamonic and a new contract for coulda-been free-agent Michael Stone.
Still, you can’t fault the kid for shooting for the stars. Or shooting to join the stars.
“I’m doing everything what I can to play with the Calgary Flames next year. That’s what my goal is right now,” said Valimaki, who piled up 61 points — 19 goals and 42 helpers — in 60 regular-season appearances last winter for the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans. “It’s not the end of the world if I still play in junior, but I’m working to play in the NHL.
“Obviously, it’s not going to be easy. Physically, I think I have a pretty big body, and that’s not going to be a problem. Once I get used to it here and the camps later in September, I feel like I could be ready.”
It’s already been a whirlwind ‘off-season’ for Valimaki, and that’s not about to change.
The 6-foot-2, 215-lb. prospect attended the scouting combine in Buffalo, the draft in Chicago and then scooted to Vancouver to spend a few days with a pal before Friday’s flight to Calgary. (Asked for his first impressions, he replied: “I like it. I think it’s good that it’s not the biggest city in the world, but it’s still a big city. There’s everything we need. And I’ve only heard great things about the fans here.”)
After his stay at development camp, which started with Monday’s Amazing Race-esque team-building session and wraps with Friday’s scrimmage at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre, Valimaki will return home for a wee bit of downtime before a brief tune-up with the rest of Finland’s most talented teen pucksters and a trip to the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Mich.
Tired yet? We haven’t even mentioned the Flames rookie camp or the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, followed by main camp.
“And then it’s time for the season,” Valimaki said.
A season that he hopes to spend in Calgary.
Flames general manager Brad Treliving could probably write the cheque for a new rink if he had a dollar for every time that he’s stressed that you can’t make the team in July, but this marks the starting point in Valimaki’s quest to stick around the Saddledome for the 2017-18 NHL campaign.
“Just show them who I am as a person and as a player,” Valimaki said of his game-plan for development camp. “Work really hard, compete really hard and just try to be myself here, every day and every second.”