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By the Numbers Prospects: Vili Saarijarvi

Young defenseman had highest plus-minus for the AHL's Griffins

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

By the Numbers will highlight the on-ice accomplishments in the 2018-19 season for the Detroit Red Wings' prospects. Twice a week during the offseason, By the Numbers will profile a different player in the system, focusing on his statistical highs. This week we focus on defenseman Vili Saarijarvi.

When the Detroit Red Wings finished training camp in September, there was one player who had received quite a bit of attention for the improvements he had made.

That player was defenseman Vili Saarijarvi, originally the Wings' third-round pick, 73rd overall, in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Saarijarvi, who will turn 22 on May 15, has spent part of his offseasons working out with other players at Barwis Methods in Plymouth, Mich.

That has produced results as Saarijarvi has put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle since he was drafted.

Saarijarvi split the 2017-18 season between the ECHL's Toledo Walleye and the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

This past season, Saarijarvi earned a spot in the Griffins lineup and spent the entire season in Grand Rapids.

The next step for Saarijarvi is to continue to improve the defensive side of his game while establishing himself as a quarterback on a successful power play in the American Hockey League.

70 -- Saarijarvi played in 70 regular-season games for the Griffins this past season, a new career high. Last season he played in a combined 52 games between Toledo and Grand Rapids.

4 -- From Oct. 13-26, Saarijarvi recorded a career-high four-game point streak. He had an assist in Chicago against the Wolves on Oct. 13, an assist Oct. 17 against the Texas Stars, a goal Oct. 20 at home against the Wolves and an assist in Belleville Oct. 26 against the Senators.

1 -- The goal Saarijarvi scored on Oct. 20 against the Chicago Wolves was the first AHL goal of his career. Saarijarvi also recorded his first AHL playoff goal on April 28 at Chicago, a first-period tally in the team's season-ending 4-2 loss.

3 -- On Jan. 12 against the Belleville Senators, Saarijarvi recorded a season-high three points in the 5-2 victory. Saarijarvi had a power-play goal in the second period that proved to be the game-winner, and also had two assists on the power play.

100 -- On Jan. 19 when the Griffins hosted the Milwaukee Admirals, Saarijarvi skated in his 100th North American pro game. He had one shot and was plus-1 in the 3-0 shutout win. On March 15 when the Griffins hosted the Rockford IceHogs, Saarijarvi played in his 100th game as a Griffin. He had one shot and was even in the 3-2 loss.

19 -- Saarijarvi finished the regular season with a plus-19 rating, the best on the Griffins. Fellow defenseman Jake Chelios was second at plus-18.

121 -- Saarijarvi was seventh on the team in shots with 121, which was first among Griffins defensemen. Forward Matt Puempel led the team with 225 shots. Joe Hicketts was second among Grand Rapids defensemen with 109 shots. Saarijarvi and Hicketts were the only two Griffins defensemen with more than 100 shots.

14 - Saarijarvi had 14 assists for the Griffins, surpassing the 11 he had during the 2017-18 season.

Quotable: "I think the positive for Vili certainly is he played in 70 games, so he played in almost every regular-season game, whereas a year ago he was a guy that was in and out of the lineup. He had to spend a little bit of time down in Toledo, which I thought was of benefit to him in his development. So this year he became what I would say is a full-time, top-six American League defenseman. He was given an opportunity to play on the power play at times throughout the year and probably unfortunately, Vili was a casualty of a power play unit that wasn't very good and it was by no fault of his own. Organizationally, our power play was not good enough and that's on everybody. So I think Vili was a guy that found himself in and out of the power play, but certainly came along in his defensive play, his ability to move pucks. He gained more confidence with the puck. Vili's next step, he was known as an offensive guy in junior, he was a guy that could quarterback a power play. Certainly that was our message to Vili in the exit meeting was your next step is to now grab one of those power-play jobs next year and hopefully the power-play unit as a whole is in a better spot to allow young guys like that to develop in those roles." -- Ryan Martin, Red Wings assistant general manager and Grand Rapids Griffins general manager

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