Per a release on the Flint Firebirds’ website, the Red Wings have reassigned defensive prospect Vili Saarijärvi to the Grand Rapids for the remainder of their season.
Being one of the team’s top defensive prospects, the Finn put up 43 points in 59 games in his first OHL season (ranking ninth amongst defencemen) after coming into the league in the 2015 CHL Import Draft. He was taken 73rd overall in the third round by the Wings the same year. He’s still 18, turning 19 in May.
The Flint Firebirds have been about as attractive this season as a literal bird on fire, missing the playoffs in their inaugural season after moving from Plymouth. The team finished third-last in the 20-team league and missed out on a playoff spot by 10 points.
Going through a number of issues with the coaching staff, management, and players, (more info here per Frank Seravelli, TSN) the environment in Flint isn’t ideal, to say the least. Though his numbers look good, giving Saarijärvi the chance to play in the AHL should be a good step for his development in a less hostile organization.
It’s unlikely the Wings will let him return to the Firebirds next year, which gives them the option to either push for a trade, or have him stick with Grand Rapids. As he’s a USHL draftee from the Green Bay Gamblers, he’s not required to return to the CHL for his 19-year old season. However, there’s a chance the Wings like forcing young Vili through some adversity like he faced this season.
Besides his time in the OHL, he picked up four points and a gold medal at the World Junior Championships this past year in his home country.
Giving him a chance to enter the pro ranks (at least for this playoff run) should give the organization a closer look to see how he fits into the organization moving forward.