Carolina Hurricanes: One for the Future: Aleksi Saarela

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 20: Aleksi Saarela #15 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates against the Washington Capitals in the first period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Capital One Arena on April 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 20: Aleksi Saarela #15 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates against the Washington Capitals in the first period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Capital One Arena on April 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /
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This week’s installment of One for the Future focuses on Aleksi Saarela, one of the Hurricanes most promising offensive prospects.

The Carolina Hurricanes have a ton of promising offensive prospects in the pipeline, as evidenced by the past few installments of this series. Aleksi Saarela is absolutely one of those, and today we’re going to look at exactly why Saarela is going to be an offensive workhorse in the NHL in the very near future.

Aleksi Saarela was selected 89th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers. Before being drafted, however, Saarela spent the previous four seasons playing in the Finnish SM-Liiga (formerly the Finnish Elite League), where he racked up 56 points in 105 games played over the course of those four seasons.

During the 2015-2016 season, Saarela led his team (Porin Assat) with 20 goals, and finished the season 3rd overall in scoring, having accumulated 33 points in 51 games. The New York Rangers, on February 28th, 2016, traded the rights to Aleksi Saarela, along with a 2016 Second Round pick, and a 2017 Second Round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Eric Staal.

Nearly four months later, on June 13th, 2016, Saarela would sign a three-year entry-level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. Saarela has been called up to the Hurricanes’ lineup on a few occasions, the first being in January 2018 shortly before a matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Saarela would be sent back down to the Charlotte Checkers without participating in a game during this time frame. Saarela has shown vast improvements over the course of his three seasons with the Checkers; he had a career year this past season, scoring 30 goals (the fourth player in franchise history to do so) and 24 assists for a combined 54 points in 69 regular season games played.

His previous season, Saarela managed to register 25 goals and 18 assists for a combined 43 points in 69 regular season games played. Curtis Joe of EliteProspects had this to say about Saarela in 2014:

"[Saarela is] 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."

Saarela was called up by the Hurricanes during the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round against the Washington Capitals. Saarela would make his NHL (and NHL Playoffs) debut on April 20th, 2019 for Game 5 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Saarela didn’t see very much ice time, and didn’t get an opportunity to contribute on the scoreboard, but seemed very comfortable on the ice and with his teammates despite playing the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Saarela is yet another bright spot in the Hurricanes’ future, and is currently a huge reason why the Checkers have managed to advance to Round 2 of the Calder Cup playoffs. There is a very significant chance that he will be able to crack the roster for the 2019-20 season, but if not, I’d keep a very close eye on him to break through and be NHL-ready for the 2020-21 season at the latest.

One for the Future: Alex Nedeljkovic. light. More

Question for CC Readers: Which prospect would you like to see featured in next week’s ‘One for the Future’?