For anyone looking to catch up on the ‘Back to School’ series covering the Hurricanes prospects below or just graduating to the AHL level, you can find a clickable menu that includes the previous 17 ‘Back to School’ articles HERE.
With ‘Back to School’ articles completed for all of the players expected to play below the AHL level in 2017-18 (we will see if Martin Necas makes the original list wrong), today’s ‘Back to School’ article is the first to look at “the graduating class” of nine Hurricanes prospects who are expected to make the jump to the AHL level for the 2017-18 season.
Aleksi Saarela is one of the least seen of the Hurricanes prospects who have been part of the organization for awhile. Saarela was second-round draft pick of the New York Rangers in the 2015 NHL Draft who was acquired in the Eric Staal trade. His skill set is that of a skilled forward with great wheels and sniper skills with the puck on his stick. Saarela has been developing in the Finnish Liiga and did not play in the prospect camp or Traverse City tourney during either of the two years since being acquired because of injuries, so his participation in the current NHL training camp is his first appearance in Raleigh. In 2016-17, he had 15 goals and 13 assists in 49 games for Lukko in the Finnish Liiga before an eye-catching 9-game stint in the AHL in Charlotte at the end of the season. His ten points in only nine AHL games no doubt drew attention. If he does not surprise and make the Hurricanes opening day roster, he is slated to make the jump to North America and play for the Charlotte Checkers.
Interview with Marco Bombino from FinnProspects
About the interviewee
Marco Bombino (Twitter=@marco_bombino) is a Finnish prospect analyst for McKeen’s Hockey and FinnProspects. He also has his own website finnishjuniorhockey.com that provides information on Finnish prospects playing in juniors and at the pro level. He has previously worked for Future Considerations, Over The Boards and Dobber Prospects.
Interview on Carolina Hurricanes prospect Aleksi Saarela
Canes and Coffee: How would you describe Aleksi Saarela in terms of skill set, ability and style of play to Hurricanes fans just learning about him? Is there a current or former NHL player who he reminds you of?
Marco Bombino: Saarela has a really interesting offensive skill set, including an excellent, hard shot that can surprise goalies even from a longer distance. He possesses good hands and set-up skills, knows how to feed pucks to his linemates in a timely manner. He moves well in a straight-line, and although I’d like to see better agility, he has good top speed and is strong on his skates. Just a very gifted offensive player.
Canes and Coffee: How did Aleksi Saarela play during the 2016-17 season in Finland? What were the highlights of his season?
Marco Bombino: He lacked the consistency to be able to make an impact each night. He wasn’t involved in the game as much as I would have liked to see. He was expected to be a key offensive catalyst for Lukko, but his point totals took a setback from the previous campaign. He did play well in January, putting up points at a nearly point-per-game pace.
Canes and Coffee: Before and since being drafted Saarela has had a couple of injury setbacks? Is there any long-term impact or reason for concern in terms of his development and also ability to stay healthy? Or would you say that these injuries were more just a string of bad luck?
Marco Bombino: Saarela already suffered two concussions in 2012 and his inability to stay healthy has been concerning since then. I think this could hurt his development going forward and probably has already. He didn’t play a full season in the Liiga due to injuries, at most 51 games, which is very unfortunate.
Canes and Coffee: Exiting the 2016-17 season and heading into the offseason, what areas of Aleksi Saarela’s game jump out as being on track to be NHL caliber? What areas of his game still show room for improvement?
Marco Bombino: I think his offensive game is already NHL caliber. On the other hand, as I mentioned, I think he needs to elevate his consistency and play a stronger 200-foot game. However, he is still young and I fully expect him to improve in this aspect of the game in North America.
Canes and Coffee: Is there anything else about Aleksi Saarela not covered in the questions above that might be of interest to Hurricanes fans?
Marco Bombino: His father Pasi scored 496 points during his Liiga career and was well-known for his great shot – Aleksi may have gotten a few hints from him. Aleksi’s younger brother, Antti, is a very talented 2001 born center prospect who could hear his name called early in the 2019 NHL Draft.
For past coverage on Aleksi Saarela including a check in on him during the 2016-17, please visit his Canes and Coffee player page HERE.
Canes and Coffee would like to extend a huge thank you to Marco Bombino from FinnProspects for generously sharing his insight on Hurricanes prospect Aleksi Saarela!