The infamous brand specialist and fast food connoisseur, Canes Ombudsmith, tweeted a provoking thought last Sunday which got me thinking.
Why isn’t anyone talking about Aleksi Saarela? The twenty-year-old tallied 10 points (6g, 4a) in his first nine games with the Charlotte Checkers. Saarela went on to be named AHL player of the week and led the Checkers to their first playoff appearance in four years. Yes, playoff hockey droughts are apparently an epidemic in the Old North State.
As it stands now, the Hurricanes’ fourth line looks to be a log jam of sub par talent. Former Blackhawk, Marcus Kruger, was brought in to anchor the fourth line after the long-awaited Jay McClement departure. As an excellent penalty killer who will add physicality to the bottom line, Kruger’s job is safe.
This leaves Josh Jooris, Brock McGinn, Joakim Nordstrom, and Phil Di Giuseppe vying for the last two roster spots. I do believe Derek Ryan is a bottom-line talent but I’m excluding him from this list. Unfortunately, I do not see a scenario where Bill Peters’ bumps him down the lineup and plays Ryan to his rightful skill level, especially after his fluky 11 goal season.
Back to Saarela.
Cutting to the chase — If he isn’t already, Saarela will be a better hockey player at the NHL level than the four players mentioned above. While often-forgotten, the left-winger was once pegged to be a first rounder but fell to the New York Rangers for the 89th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. The only knock on Saarela is his susceptibility to injury but this should not play a factor in his chance in Raleigh.
A dangerous offensive forward that creates energy through scoring chances. Possesses good hockey sense as well as good hands and stickhandling ability. A smooth and speedy skater who has a lot of jump in his step. Not very large in stature; however, his diminutive size doesn’t deter his scoring prowess, and that is what he will have to rely upon to be successful. – Joe Curtis, EliteProspects
Jooris (4), McGinn (7), Nordstrom (7), and Di Giuseppe (1) combined for only 21 goals last season — Saarela could easily replace any of these player’s production and provide a much needed scoring punch to Carolina’s bottom line.
There has been an influx of talent in the Carolina prospect pool over the past couple years. While not as flashy as Julien Gauthier or Janne Kuokkanen, Saarela is a training camp sleeper and one that I see causing some roster controversy over the course of the 2017-18 season. He just needs a chance.
Saarela has an excellent training camp and is one of the last players sent down to Charlotte before the end of the preseason. Ron Francis and company let the young Finn fine-tune his game at the AHL level. At the expense of Nordstrom, Aleksi Saarela is a full time NHLer by January.
Anyway, here’s Wonderwall.