Welcome to the Canes Prospect Profile, pres. by Uber, a monthly feature here on CarolinaHurricanes.com. Each month we'll take a look at the top-performing Canes prospects across the minor leagues.
This month, it's Checkers forward Aleksi Saarela, who earned 11 points (8g, 3a) in 11 games played with Charlotte through March.
Saarela leads all Checkers in goals (29) and shots (190) this season and has set career season highs in points (53) and assists (24), with two games left to play in the Checkers' regular season.
But about March.
Saarela was held to just one goal through the first week of the month, but come March 8, the Finland native opened the floodgates on a four-game point streak, starting with a two-goal night against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
"When he's scoring and confident, Aleksi can do a lot of damage offensively," Sergei Samsonov, the Hurricanes' head of forwards development, said. "He gets really determined to get on the puck."
Humbly regarded as the "League's Best Shot," Saarela can do a lot of damage to sticks, too.
"Probably helps that [Alex Nedeljkovic] still uses a wooden stick," Samsonov laughed. "But Aleksi's wrist shot is often harder than a lot of guys' slap shots. Aleksi is getting more comfortable using his power more and pulling the trigger. It surprises a lot, I think."
Like this against the Rochester Americans that weekend.
Saarela was handed the first suspension of his AHL career in the Checkers' March 16 game vs. Rochester as the result of a high stick. He served his two-game punishment, missing games on March 19 and 20, but returning in time to help the Checkers sweep the Hartford Wolfpack and clinch a Calder Cup Playoffs berth.
Closing things out.
"[Aleksi] is a really even-keeled player," Samsonov said. "He doesn't get too high or too low on things, and that works really well with the grind of the season.
"For him, it's business as usual."
ONE TO WATCH
On March 21, the Canes signed 2017 third-round NHL Draft pick Stelio Mattheos to a three-year, entry-level deal, which begins with the 2019-20 season. Following the conclusion of his final season with the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings, the forward reported to Charlotte for an amateur tryout.
Mattheos finished the 2018-19 WHL season ranked fourth in the league in goals (44) and sixth in points (96), and he didn't have to wait too long to get rolling in the AHL either. Mattheos' first professional goal came on March 29. His celly game appears strong as well.