With this article on Hurricanes prospect Aleksi Saarela, the ‘back to school’ series featuring recently drafted Carolina Hurricanes prospects makes its first jump outside of North America.
Menu of Hurricanes prospects ‘back to school’ articles
Saarela was a second round pick by the New York Rangers in the 2015 NHL draft. He was acquired by the Carolina Hurricanes in February of 2016 along with a second round pick for Eric Staal. Saarela is a native of Finland whose development thus far has been in Finland. He was signed to 3-year entry-level contract by the Carolina Hurricanes and could play in Charlotte for the 2016-17 season, but the expectation is that he will remain in Finland and play for Lukko Rauma of SM-liiga (the Finnish Elite League). Saarela has been described as a somewhat undersized speedy and skilled offensive forward who can play center or wing. He joins a contingent of similar Hurricanes players and prospects that includes Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho and Janne Kuokkanen.
Interview on Aleksi Saarela with Zachary DeVine from Last Word on Sports and Dobber Prospects
Zachary DeVine (Twitter=@zakkthebear) is the head of the hockey department at Last Word on Sports. He also reports on NHL prospects for @DobberProspects, covers all manner of hockey on the West Coast, including the San Jose Sharks, San Jose Barracuda, Stockton Heat, Everett Silvertips and tracks the SM-Liiga games whenever they can be found.
Canes and Coffee: How would you describe Aleksi Saarela’s skill set and game in 3-4 sentences?
Zachary Devine from Last Word on Sports and Dobber Prospects: He’s another highly skilled, smooth skating Finnish forward who can play both the wing and center positions. Saarela can both distribute and shoot the puck, not really preferring one role or the other but did register 20 goals and 13 assists last year. Defensively he’s made strides and played well for Finland at the 2016 World Junior Championship with three goals and four assists in seven games. He was a big contributor after the Finns big line of Jesse Puljujarvi, Patrik Laine and fellow Carolina prospect Sebastian Aho.
Canes and Coffee: What areas will Aleksi Saarela need to improve/develop to rise to and succeed at the NHL level?
Zachary Devine from Last Word on Sports and Dobber Prospects: Saarela needs to get his development back on track. He was a highly touted prospect that stalled out before regaining some momentum last year. He has the offensive tools to contribute but somewhere something went wrong. He played a lot in SM-Liiga last year with Assat posting 33 points in 51 games, which tied him for third on the squad. His size is just OK, at 5’11 and nearly 200 pounds, but that shouldn’t be a limiting factor. He is not shy about crashing the net or working the corners. A solid year for the Checkers would go a long way as well, proving he can adjust to North American ice and style of play. That said, he has the tools to do so.
Canes and Coffee: To which NHL player(s) would you compare Saarela’s skill set and style of play and why?
Zachary Devine from Last Word on Sports and Dobber Prospects: I don’t like comps, every player is unique. I’d sum up his maximum upside as a speedy scoring forward that can also be deployed on special teams.
Canes and Coffee: If his development goes well, what do you see as Aleksi Saarela’s ceiling and role at the NHL level?
Zachary Devine from Last Word on Sports and Dobber Prospects: At this time, it is a middle six role, but that’s a good thing. The NHL is moving rapidly away from the checking third line and that will open up opportunities for talented, but not star, forwards like Saarela. His vision on the ice will help his transition as defense can be taught and the creativity with the puck on his stick is above average. A similar role to the one he had at the WJC would be the ceiling for him at the NHL level.
Canes and Coffee would like to thank Zachary DeVine for being so generous with his time to help provide coverage of Hurricanes prospect Aleksi Saarela.