It has been a dark outlook for the Wings’ blue line over the past several years since the whole crop of Ouellett, Sproul, Backman, Almquist, Marchenko, and a bunch of others in that generation of early-decade draft picks that failed to really take the reins of the Detroit blue line. The future is certainly brighter on the Detroit blue line than a couple of years ago with the new batch of defensemen, what with Hronek and Cholowski and Hicketts knocking at the door. But before Filip, before Dennis, and before most fans were excited about Joe, there was Vili.
Born: May 15th, 1997
Birthplace: Rovaniemi, Finland
Drafted: 2015. 3rd Round, 73rd Overall, Detroit Red Wings
Current Team: Grand Rapids Griffins
Since he was drafted in 2015, Saarijarvi has been heralded as offensively creative on the blue line, with a pretty wrister to boot. He is the type of player to run a power play, especially with those wheels he’s got on him; his lateral skating across the blue line is strong, which is what allows him to really flex his creativity and wrister; he can move to where he needs to be to get a lot of work done.
Management, including Red Wings’ director of scouting Tyler Wright, have also given high praise to the way Saarijarvi sees and thinks about the game. The 21-year-old just has a knack for seeing his way around the offensive zone, which is a tough skill to teach, and I mean tough as in it is more innate talent than skill. You can do some work to improve it, but at the end of the day you either have great vision and good brain for the game, or you don’t. Vili is on the right side of things in this regard, which is pretty exciting because Detroit badly needs offensive creativity from the blue line.
To speak to management’s belief in the guy, they moved Ryan Sproul so that Vili Saarijarvi could get time in Grand Rapids. Can we say that one of his strengths is that he appears to be someone worth believing in? At this stage in the Wings’ life cycle, when those games in the long dark of February make you wonder what its all for, I would say yeah, we can count the optimism he generates as a strength.
You know where this is going. I talked so much about Saarijarvi’s play in the offensive end in the strengths section, but I conspicuously left out his own defensive play. The organization wanted Vili in Grand Rapids, but he was struggling to make the line up, so he was sent to the Toledo Walleyes of the ECHL. It was a transitionary time for the young blue-liner.
And a tough transition it was! While Saarijarvi tore up his 10 games in the ECHL to the tune of 6 points, he struggled to stick in Grand Rapids after Sproul was traded to the Rangers to make room for him. He made it into the lineup with some consistency starting in mid-December last year and saw his ice time improve and his responsibilities increase as the season progressed, eventually becoming a regular and running a power play. Still, Saarijarvi is going to have to continue to work in his own end to earn the continued trust of his coaches.
Also, Saarijarvi is committed to building his strength this offseason, which will be a welcome addition. The Griffins’ website has him listed as 178 pounds, which just won’t do for him to reach the NHL.
For some reason we fans started overlooking Vili Saarijarvi when Filip Hronek, Joe Hicketts, and Dennis Cholowski started drawing eyeballs, and I think that was a bit of a mistake. Vili has shown tremendous growth is the past year and has kept a good attitude through the ups and downs of it all. He’s loved in the locker room and he’s being mentored by Brian Lashoff, who is really paying dividends for the Red Wings in Grand Rapids.
Vili Saarijarvi will start the season in Grand Rapids unless he has a lights out training camp, but he ought to be in the mix for first call-up to Detroit. He could find his way into Detroit’s middle pairing in relatively short order.
Is Vili really the man to hold down the 16 spot?
This poll is closed
I have never been more sure of anything in my life.
Send him back up to #7 (or some such.)
After the 2018 draft, Saarijarvi is old news.
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