Injuries suck. There’s no doubt about that, but the ramifications of an injury in the NHL make waves all the way down the farm system. Because the Wings had four of their six veteran defensemen start the season on the injured reserve, they required the services of four prospects. That left gaps in Grand Rapids, where other young up-and-coming D had to step up to fill the AHL gaps.
One of those players is Vili Saarijarvi, who’s earned his chance to showcase his skills. Tonight, Saarijarvi scored his first AHL goal.
— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) October 21, 2018
The goal gave the Griffins a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period against the Chicago Wolves and displayed Saarijarvi’s keen hockey sense and nose for the net. It takes something special in a defenseman to have the confidence to enter the zone with the puck and walk in as close to the net as he got. Then, the impressive patience to look for the pass and bang home the free puck. Overall, it was a very nice goal.
The goal was the young defenseman’s third point of the season as the Griffins got off to a slow start. Saarijarvi has had a slow development path as he got minimal ice time in Grand Rapids in past years due to blueline crowding with top prospects and veteran players. Now, that crowd has dispersed and Saarijarvi is being leaned on heavily on the back end. He had a great preseason in Detroit and could be a serviceable mid- or bottom-pair D one day.
And if the injuries continue to pile on for the Wings this year, he may get his shot sooner rather than later.