Chicago Blackhawks: Aleksi Saarela a Name to Watch Closely
By Michael Wagner
There will be plenty of competition for a select few spots on the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2019-20 roster. Aleksi Saarela will be a name to watch in training camp.
One of those roster positions that will be hotly contested is the vacancy on Jonathan Toews‘ wing. With the acquisition of players like Andrew Shaw and Alex Nylander along with internal candidates like Dylan Sikura and Drake Caggiula, who was solid on Toews’ wing last season. There are a lot of names being floated for that top spot.
However, another player who was acquired in the Calvin de Haan deal with the Hurricanes, Aleski Saarela could be a dark horse in securing a roster spot come October.
Saarela was the Charlotte Checkers’ leading goalscorer last season and was just four off of the AHL goal-scoring lead.
If you are unfamiliar with Aleksi Saarela, this highlight reel should show you all you need to know. He can score, he can forecheck, and he has high upside.
Saarela has proven he can score at the AHL level, but with an organization in Carolina that struggled to find scoring, it was odd that Saarela never got the call to try and contribute at the NHL level. He has zero NHL games since transitioning to North American hockey in 2017.
The former 3rd round pick has been lauded for having one of the best shots in the AHL, and despite his diminutive size at 5′ 11″, Saarela has not struggled in the physical game whatsoever.
Aleksi Saarela has all the tools and he has been able to prove it at the AHL level. The next logical move would be for him to jump the likes of Dylan Sikura and Alex Nylander, when it comes to getting an NHL roster spot out of camp.
I really would like to see Saarela on the opening night roster, because as has been previously stated, he has succeeded at the AHL level. This is something Sikura and Nylander have not shown to this point.
Saarela also has the type of skill set that would really complement a line with Toews and Kane, but the Jokiharju/Nylander trade gives me pause.
With the trade of one of the Blackhawks’ top prospects, Henri Jokiharju, for a player in Alexander Nylander, who was also a first-round pick and someone who Bowman seemingly has a lot of faith in, could spell disaster for Saarela.
Nylander has failed to show the type of ability that Saarela has shown at the AHL level, but Nylander’s high draft position coupled with his high acquisition cost could mean that he will be given every opportunity to snag a roster spot coming opening night.
I am interested to see what Nylander could do with high profile players like Toews and Kane, but from his previous body of work, Saarela intrigues me even more and has proven it in the AHL.
Aleksi Saarela could also be in a fight for middle-six position, but that that will be an even more crowded competition with players like Zack Smith, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and even 3rd overall pick, Kirby Dach, competing for spots in the lineup.
Looking at the quantity and quality of players fighting for limited forward spots this season, Saarela could be on the outside looking in, but at least two things are now clear.
The Chicago Blackhawks’ depth has been substantially upgraded and the Rockford IceHogs are going to be a fun AHL team to watch in 2019-20.
For Aleksi Saarela, he is going to need to impress when training camp rolls around, but from what we have seen of his production, he is going to make it difficult for Jeremy Colliton and his staff to send him to Rockford.