Viljami Juusola is a defenseman from Kirkkonummi, Finland who was born in April 2003. Though he was skipped over in the 2021 entry draft, Juusola still has a chance to be picked in the 2022 draft.
Juusola´s junior career arch has been special. Starting the 2020-21 season with Kärpät U20 in Finland, he transferred to Kalix HC in the Swedish third-tier pro league mid-season. In Kalix he scored two goals and six points in 12 games to finish the season off. During the 2021-22 season, he has been playing in the Swedish second-tier pro league for IF Björklöven. Although he has only tallied one assist in twelve games to start the 2021-22 season, Juusola has established himself as a reliable defenseman.
Juusola is a 5’10”, 165 lbs defensemen with good puck-moving skills. He has good offensive instincts with his strengths in transition from defence to offence. While controlling the puck he is aided by his crisp mobility and smooth skating. Juusola is shifty similar to what one would expect from a winger. In terms of playing style he resembles his countryman Miro Heiskanen, although he lacks Miro´s straight-line speed.
|Date of Birth||April 19, 2003|
|Place of Birth||Kirkkonummi, Finland|
|Height||179 cm, 5’10”|
|Weight||77 kg / 170 lbs|
|FCHockey Draft Ranking||N/A|
|NHL Draft Eligibility||2021|
Juusola is primarily an offensive defenseman. His skill is best put on display while transitioning to offence, where he is completely in control and trusted to complete the breakout pass. Juusola has the puck-handling skill, speed, and vision to transport the puck out of the defensive zone. This skillset is also useful in the offensive zone where he can quarterback a powerplay-unit.
Offensively, Juusola played a big role last year representing Kalix HC in the Swedish third-tier league. While he played top-pairing minutes in Kalix, unfortunately his ice time has dropped since transferring to IF Björklöven in the second-tier pro league for the 2021-22 season. The higher level of competition has suppressed his puck-transporting initiatives through the neutral zone. Though he has developed to a reliable third-pairing defensemen, Juusola proved how comfortable he can be with the puck on his stick during the 2021-22 season. From his time in Kalix HC we also know how creative he can be with the puck, sometimes even completing passes from zone to zone. Juusola needs to display similar authority in the second-tier league to take the next step in his development.
In the offensive zone, Juusola surveys the scene while moving along the blue line. He has accurate passing skills and poses a threat with his wrister. Juusola has the ability to fire his wrister and move his feet simultaneously, taking goalies by surprise. Unfortunately his shot is not as hard as it could be, and he would do well to raise his accuracy. The timing of his shot could also improve, as he tends to shoot without net-front presence. He will have to dictate the game with more assertiveness, occasionally taking the puck to the net when a chance arises. Juusola has hands to deke goalies, similar to what one could expect from a winger.
Juusola´s mobility compensates for his small size in the defensive zone. He trusts his quickness to win puck battles since he is not capable of outmanoeuvring attackers physically. His size-deficit could nevertheless cause a struggle if a forward gains inside position on Juusola in front of the net.
Juusola´s positioning in the defensive zone could improve. In an attempt to be aggressive, Juusola tends to over-work defensive situations at the cost of coverage in front of the net. The difficult balancing act of trying to be aggressive while also positionally sound is challenging for him in the second-tier pro league. It requires a decisiveness that Juusola has yet to develop. While comparing him to other prospects, one should keep in mind that he faces competition superior to the Swedish U20 league.
Juusola is a decent skater with good lateral mobility and rapid acceleration. His agility is particularly useful along the offensive blue line while in attack. He uses his edges for slight direction shifts to open passing or shooting lanes. Juusola is helped by his balance for subtle weight-transfers to deceive defenders.
Juusola could create separation from back-checking defensemen through his quick first strides in offensive transition. His quickness is also an effective tool while pinching inside the offensive blue line. This has given his team offensive zone time from their-third pairing defence.
His straight-line speed is an aspect of his skating that will need to improve. He needs to add more power to his stride, and he has yet to gain elite intensity. Since his skating technique already is solid, improved lower-body strength could boost Juusola´s pace.
Junior players in Sweden and most of Europe can play either in the junior ranks or in the pro leagues. Some clubs have both a pro team and a U20 team in the top-tier junior league. Top prospects could then be promoted to the professional team, even though this is uncommon for draft-eligible players. Juusola´s team, IF Björklöven, does however not have a top-tier junior team and he is expected to remain in the second-tier pro league for the season.
Playing in the pro leagues puts Juusola´s defence to the test, but his offensive zone time is limited. His ice time has dropped significantly during the 2021-22 relative to his 2020-21 campaign. It is also important to note that he does not play on the powerplay either. This could hurt Juusola´s development and ultimately his draft stock.
Juusola will need to put his puck-managing skillset on further display to be drafted. This was a strong aspect of his game last year, but he has yet to unlock his potential in the second-tier league. If Juusola manages to do so, he will be in the discussion to be selected in the 2022 NHL entry draft.