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BLOG: Aleksi Saarela looking to make NHL jump in Chicago

An offensive leader for Calder Cup champions, winger eager to earn NHL minutes with Blackhawks

by Carter Baum /

The big focus from Monday's four-player trade between the Blackhawks and the Carolina Hurricanes was the addition of Calvin de Haan  as Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman continues to address big area of need defensively. 

But don't sleep on the addition of winger Aleksi Saarela in the trade as well.

Saarela, a third-round pick by the New York Rangers in 2015, has scored 107 points (61G, 46A) over the last two-plus seasons in the AHL. This past year, he logged a career-best 54 points (30G, 24A) in 69 games - the second leading scorer on a potent Checkers offense that scored the second most goals in the AHL. 

The 22-year-old was also a key member of the Checkers' first Calder Cup title, scoring 15 points (7G, 8A) and a +10 rating in 17 games this postseason. Speaking with members of the media on Tuesday from his native Finland, Saarela noted the title run was a learning experince in just his second year as a professional in North America.  

"You've got to be mentally tough and it's a tough series playing against the best teams in the league and playing against top lines every night. You have to be ready in every situation for what's going on on the ice and I felt like it was kind of a learning experience at the start, but once I stepped in, I felt comfortable to deal with that."

In the midst of Charlotte's playoff run, Saarela also made his NHL debut for the Hurricanes in Game 5 of their opening-round series against Washington, logging 9:10 of ice time in a 6-0 trouncing by the Capitals. Despite the scoreline, his experience only motivated his desire to make the full-time jump to the NHL.

As the Blackhawks look for more consistent contribution from their bottom-six forwards this season, the opportunity is there for Saarela to make a name for himself in his first training camp with his new club - one who also drafted his brother Antti in the fourth round earlier this week. 

"Obviously it's my goal to play in the NHL every game," Saarela said. "It was a cool experience to play that one playoff game in Washington and I'm going to work my ass off during the summer so I can be even closer to making the dream come true."

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