Birthday: May, 15 1997
Birthplace: Rovaniemi, Finland
Drafted: 73rd overall, 2015
We are moving closer to the top five but today we take a look a defenseman with a lot of dynamic offensive potential packed into a small package in Vili Saarijarvi. Vili has been a fan favorite of the WIIM and the Red Wings fan base since being drafted in 2015. After a tumultuous season in Flint with the Firebirds in 2016 he asked for and received a trade to the Mississauga Steelheads. While he did not have quite the same numbers in Mississauga as he did in Flint during the regular season he did have a fairly impressive playoff run with the Steelheads before joining the Grand Rapids Griffins as a Black Ace for their own playoff run and eventual Calder Cup Championship. He also earned himself a nomination for defenseman on the year in the OHL this past season.
Strengths and weaknesses
Like I said earlier Vili has a ton of dynamic offensive potential, thanks mainly to his skating and hockey IQ. While not necessarily the faster player on skates in terms of top end speed, Saarijarvi is very quick and accelerates very well. This allows him to pick his way through and put a ton of pressure on the opposing team almost effortlessly at times. Add into that some astute on ice vision and deft passing ability and he could provide a lot down the road of the blue line offense the Red Wings have missed the past few seasons.
In terms of weaknesses, most will look automatically to his size as a major one. While I do think it might be a hindrance to him early one I am not as hung up on his size as I am his defensive ability, specifically his positioning and stick work. Don’t get me wrong, he is by no means a sieve in his own end but he has a bit of a tendency to not put himself in the best position. I would also like to see him get a little better defending with his stick, especially since he will likely not be able to use his body to separate the player from the puck.
Saarijarvi will get his first taste of professional hockey on what is a crowded and potentially loaded Griffins blue line this season. Long term, I expect the log jam the Wings have on defense, his size (which I am sure many see as a disadvantage) and his waiver exempt status to keep him in Grand Rapids for at least two seasons. That is of course unless his talent and offensive ability forces the Red Wings to alter their plans, which I hope is what will happen. Either way, Vili has a bright future ahead of him as long as the perception of him being too small for the NHL does not keep him down.