Valimaki pushing aside draft pressure

Aaron Vickers2017 Draft Center, Features, WHL

There’s no draft pressure on Tri-City Americans defenseman Juuso Valimaki.

At least, not much.

“Here and there,” said Valimaki, 13th in Future Considerations’ Winter ranking for the 2017 NHL Draft.

“You feel it talking to the scouts sometimes. It’s pretty cool to talk to those guys. It’s always great to meet with them. Somehow it feels like it’s a special year, but at the same time it’s still just one season. It’s the same sport. You’re just playing hockey and having fun and working really hard. That’s all that it is. You can’t put too much pressure on the year and thinking it’s really special and you have to success. It’s both. You notice it is your draft year and you’re talking to those guys sometimes.

“At the same time it’s just a year you have to work and have fun.”

So far, so good on the fun front.

The Americans are second in the U.S. Division after finishing third in the Western Conference wild card chase a year ago.

Valimaki himself is improved, too.

He has 13 goals and 40 points in 40 games after recording seven goals and 25 assists in 56 games as a rookie in 2015-16.

“I’m always trying to become a better skater,” he said. “I’m working on my quickness and my turns and thinks like that. My gaps are a big thing, too. I have to get better at that area. I think I can play a little more physical, too, in the D-zone and give some hits.”

Valimaki has had plenty of teammates to heed advice on.

He captained Finland’s Under-18 entry to gold last spring. The team included top pick Jesse Puljujarvi, and 2017 eligibles like Eeli Tolvanen, Kristian Vesalainen and Urho Vaakanainen.

“All the Finnish guys I talked with last year, they just tried to have fun and work like I’m doing right now,” Valimaki said.

He also has Americans’ teammate Michael Rasmussen at his disposal.

Like Valimaki, Rasmussen is also eligible in 2017.

“We both want all the best for each other,” Valimaki said. “We’re just trying to push each other. I don’t think there’s competition at all. We just want the best for each other and we’re pushing each other…trying to get the best out of each other every night, and having fun and working together.”

It helps ease the pressure.

“It’s great to have Michael living with me,” Valimaki said. “He’s a really close friend of mine. It’s nice to have him to go through this draft process.

“We both think the same about this.

“He’s not putting too much pressure on this, either.”