04/10/19 Vancouver- Written for The Canuck Way.
Over the course of the offseason, I will be writing up on a series of past Vancouver Canucks’ players with the question in mind — where are they now? To kick off the series, let’s take a look at long-tenured defenceman Sami Salo.
Sami Salo was once one of the most highly regarded, fan favourite defenceman on the Vancouver Canucks. After all, he did help anchor the defense which led the team to back to back presidents trophies and game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. Although he had his issues with injury, and was not the fastest, he ingrained himself in the hearts of the fans and was one of the best Canucks defenseman in recent history.
After leading the Canucks to the cup final, he would earn himself a one year contract extension. However, that one year would be his last as a Canuck. Since his days in Vancouver, it has been a whirlwind of life for Salo. After leaving Vancouver as an unrestricted free agent in 2012, he signed a two year, $7.5 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Still a contributing member of the team, he did not fit in the Canucks plans and was a perfect fit for an up and coming Tampa Bay Lightning team. Funny enough, he was paired with another former Canuck in Jason Garrison in a few games for the Bolts.
Salo had a fairly successful two seasons in Tampa. Being on the older side during his time with the Lightning, he was played in a sheltered role — but continued to play the two way style he had become known for. Through 46 games in his first season, the Finn put up 17 points, but in his second season his points total stayed stagnant while his games played ballooned to 76. It was this drop in production that was the main reason he chose to retire at the conclusion of his contract.
Since it was such a brief contract, Sami’s wife and three kids remained in Vancouver while he plied his trade for the Lightning. Salo’s only son Oliver played a high level of hockey and wanted to continue his development in Vancouver, while the rest of the family wanted to continue the life they had become accustomed to in the city.
Only after his time in Tampa came to an end did the Salo family move back to his hometown of Turku in Finland. Back at home, Salo returned to his hometown team, TPS Turku in a coaching role, while his son; now 15 has been playing with the clubs junior team.
With Salo back in Finland, removed from the North American hockey scene. One would think that all of his interactions with Vancouver would have come to an end. Believe it or not, this was not the case. Not even close. The year after joining TPS Turkus coaching staff, the Canucks picked defencemen Olli Juolevi with the 6th overall pick. Of course, Juolevi was drafted from TPS, and had been coached by Salo during his draft year.
While the Juolevi pick was divisive among Vancouver fans when it was made, the fanbase was put at a bit of ease when Salo came out and spoke about how good of a player he actually was.
Now, three years later, Juolevi has yet to make his NHL debut, so one has to question whether or not to trust Salo’s initial opinion. In his draft plus one season, Juolevi was called out by Salo for being “unfit and unready for the NHL.”
On a radio appearance in Vancouver, Salo said “ He has a lot of things to work on to be able to make the jump to North America and the NHL, but he sees the ice well and will be good going forward.” In the end, having a franchise defenceman like Salo mentoring Juolevi has been beneficial for the Canucks and Juolevi will be better off having this experience.
Salo returned to Vancouver in the summer of 2018 to help coach at the development camp, where Juolevi was one of the top prospects. This was his last known involvement with the Canucks organization, however he still has connections to the team — even now with Juolevi in Utica.
Salo has continued in his role with TPS Turku, and is overseeing one of 2019’s most highly regarded prospect. Consensus top-two pick Kappo Kakko is playing with Turku, and has kept the Finnish team in the spotlight this season. Who knows, if the draft lottery odds are friendly for the Canucks, they could very well end up with yet another player who was mentored by the legendary Finnish defenceman.