Second City Hockey’s 2019-20 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2019. The rankings are determined by a composite score from six SCH writers and more than 70 readers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. The six SCH writers will make their ballots public after the series is completed.
During the Calder Cup Finals, then-Charlotte Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci couldn’t heap enough praise on the play of Aleksi Saarela throughout the playoffs. If you saw Saarela play in the AHL last season, you likely couldn’t either.
Saarela’s 30 goals tied for eighth in the league and his seven playoff goals were fifth in the postseason. He rose from a .78 points per game pace in the regular season to .88 in the playoffs. His shot is one of the most mesmerizing things about his game, but he combines it with speed and an ability to get up the ice and to the high-danger areas quickly. In other words, the things Alex Nylander gets points off for, Saarela has.
Saarela, who was selected in the third round (89th overall) of the 2015 NHL draft by the Hurricanes and just two spots before the Blackhawks took defenseman Dennis Gilbert, grades out as a middle-six forward, someone capable of adding much needed depth scoring to a lineup. That’s exactly what the Blackhawks would need out of him, and he could be capable of adding it this season, depending upon how well Saarela performs in the preseason and in his likely initial stretch of games with the Rockford IceHogs.
Saarela assisted on the first goal of Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals and finished the series with one goal (the game winner in the key Game 4) and two primary assists. In exchange, he celebrated with his teammates at Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
June 7, 2019
So how was Saarela so easy to acquire from the Hurricanes along with Calvin de Haan in exchange for two pieces who no longer had a role within the Blackhawks’ organization. Well, in a recent interview, Saarela hinted he may have asked for a trade.
Didier with the blast, Saarela with the tip! pic.twitter.com/OTS7cPoiQp— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) March 9, 2019
We're gonna have to call the cops again pic.twitter.com/FJTJIcVfVP— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) March 15, 2019
Saarela — the older brother of Blackhawks prospect Antti Saarela — will be among the group of forwards who’s somewhere between the AHL and NHL, competing for a spot straight out of camp. It’s highly likely he’ll be shuttled between the IceHogs and Blackhawks this season, but if he has a similar season to the one he just had, it shouldn’t be long before he has a permanent spot on Chicago’s roster.
Is Aleski Saarela ranked too low, just right or too high?
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