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If All Else Fails, New York Islanders Could Turn To Juuso Välimäki In the Draft

Finnish prospect Juuso Välimäki could be an adequate Plan B for Garth Snow’s New York Islanders.

For many NHL fans, the upcoming lottery draft is little more than a date on the calendar.

While it’s never the highlight of the offseason for them, this year’s event is even less significant: dubbed by writers and scouts as a “weak” draft class, they’ve discarded it as utterly inconsequential.

This is the attitude of the Islanders fanbase, mostly for the aforementioned reason. The masses have clamored for the team to trade their first-round pick to Vegas, or to Edmonton, or frankly, anywhere else but Brooklyn, N.Y.

But this is a rather simplistic approach. While it’s fair to say that the Isles won’t be gaining much in the next couple of seasons from their selection, and it’s also fair to say that this is a notably weak draft class, there are, of course, some tremendously talented prospects who are, at the very least, worth talking about.

Granted, there may very well be better uses for the pick, like sending it to the Golden Knights in exchange for increased protection or shipping it to the Oilers for Jordan Eberle. But, in the case that neither of these scenarios pans out, Garth Snow needs a backup plan. This is it.

Juuso Välimäki, 18, is an extremely skilled defenseman from Finland. The Isles have seemingly been allergic to Finnish prospects over the past couple of seasons (there isn’t a single player on the active roster or in the top-20 prospect list from the country), but Välimäki could be the one to break the trend.

Ranked everywhere from the ninth best prospect to the eighteenth best prospect in the draft, he’s poised to become a mid-first round pick. For the Islanders, he could be a steal.

In nearly every regard, Välimäki reminds scouts of a puck-moving skater named Calvin de Haan. He “has better than average size, skating and skill,” per John Williams of NHL Central Skating, and is “equal parts distributor and shooter,” writes Ryan Pike of The Hockey Writers.

The Isles don’t have a great track record with European prospects. While their top two young goalies — Ilya Sorokin and Linus Söderstrom — are both foreign-born, most of the current guys on the roster — from Anders Lee to de Haan to Brock Nelson — are American or Canadian.

However, Välimäki has made multiple stops over his junior career, and has adapted well to all of them. In recent years, writes THW’s Pike, “Finland has sent a steady diet of very good young defensemen to both North American junior hockey and, eventually, the National Hockey League. The 2016 Draft had Olli Juolevi. This year’s standout Finnish defenseman is Juuso Välimäki of the Tri-City Americans.”

All of this will be moot if Snow confirms the reports that he’ll be swapping his first-round pick in exchange for the protection of his forwards at the expansion draft. But there have been conflicting reports, and nobody really knows.

Välimäki wouldn’t be a bad Plan B.

Justin Weiss is a staff editor at Elite Sports New York, where he covers the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Cyclones. In 2016, he received a Quill Award for Freelance Journalism. He has written for the Long Island Herald, FanSided and YardBarker.