Name: Vili Saarijarvi
Selected: Third Round (73rd overall)
Birthday: 5/15/1997 (19 years old)
Current Team: Grand Rapids Griffins/Flint Firebirds
Last week we checked in on the Detroit Red Wings' first round selection of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Evgeny Svechnikov, this time around we shift our attention to Detroit's third round selection from the 2015 draft, Finnish-born defenceman, Vili Saarijarvi.
Personally, I find Saarijarvi just as (if not more) interesting of a selection as the first round Svechnikov, in regards to both his playing ability as well as his current roster situation/location. What the young Saarijarvi may lack in both size and stature, he certainly makes up for in skill and statistics.
Much like his similar-sized blue-line counterpart, Torey Krug of the Bahston Bruins, Vili is a offensive defenceman who can move the puck and also find the back of the net, both at even-strength and on the power play. Saarijarvi has a lot more developing to do, and pounds to put on, before he can be put in the same category as the aforementioned Krug, but it's definitely a comparison worth noting.
Where Is He Now?
After surviving the great dumpster-fire that was the Flint Firebirds 2015-16 OHL season, Vili helped to lead Finland to a gold medal victory over Russia (and coincidentally Evgeny Svechnikov) at the World Junior Championship in January.
Gold medals and national pride are great and wonderful things, but to really get a sense of what Vili Saarijarvi has accomplished since being drafted by the Red Wings, one has to only look back at his 2015-16 season in the OHL with the Firebirds.
In 59 regular-season games played in Flint last season, Vili was able to tally 12 goals and 31 assists. These were numbers good enough for Saarijarvi to finish third in points, second in assists, and fifth in goals on the Firebirds during their 2015-16 campaign. Now, I know what you're thinking, "Flint wasn't that good, and the team finished third from last place in the OHL.", well, you certainly do have a point, but, let's look to see how Vili's totals ranked him among all OHL skaters in2015-16:
- 10th in scoring among all OHL defencemen
- 33rd in power play goals (8) among all skaters
- 52nd in power play assists (12) among all skaters
- 30th in total shots (219) among all skaters
- 9th in shots on goal (158) among all skaters
So if you ask me, and possibly Larry David, Saarijarvi's numbers are pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good. Remember, Vili accomplished all of this while playing on a struggling and tumultuous team that at one point had players walking out in protest over their coach being fired. You don't have to be an analytic guru to figure out that this kid likes to shoot the puck and can contribute/capitalize with the man-advantage, areas that the Red Wings seem to struggle in.
So now the million-dollar question to ask is, "Where will Villi Saarijarvi be in the fall of 2016?". Vili is not contractually bound to reutrn to the Firebirds next season as he was picked up in the OHL Import Draft, but he could be sent back, something that our fearless leader Kyle strongly (and rightfully so) disagrees with.
Instead of being sent back to play in Flint, Vili could be sent to another OHL team, the QMJHL, the WHL, either the Griffins or Toledo Walleye, or he could fly back across the pond to play in his native Finland. The Red Wings' organization will make the decision this summer as to what will be the most beneficial for the young defenceman. I'm not a betting man, but I'd like to think that Ken Holland and company would like to keep Saarijarvi somewhere close to Hockeytown.