At Worlds this year, Saku Mäenalanen played with Carolina Hurricanes forwards Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teräväinen on Team Finland. The Finns lost in heartbreaking fashion to Switzerland in the quarterfinal game with Mäenalanen consistently on the fourth line. He played an average of ten minutes per game, but still managed two goals and an assist over eight games.
Mäenalanen was drafted in 2013 with the 125th overall pick by the Nashville Predators. The team never signed the prospect, sending him back to free agency. Since the 2013-2014 season, Mäenalanen has spent most of his time playing for Oulun Kärpät in Finland’s top league, the SM-Liiga. Over 192 total games in the league, Mäenalanen has scored 43 goals and 96 total points for a PPG of exactly 0.50. This has been a breakout season for him, however, as he scored 46 points over 59 games, finishing eleventh in the league. The forward added 10 more points in 18 playoff games to help lead Kärpät to the league championship.
Mäenalanen could add even more of the Finnish magic that Canes fans have become accustomed to. He’s played with both Aho and Teräväinen even before this year’s Worlds. Having the three on a line together, although positionally feasible, is a long shot within the next two years. However, the connections might bring some pleasant surprises.
In 2014, Mäenalanen and Teräväinen won gold at World Juniors together. At that tournament, Mäenalanen tied for third in scoring and broke an early tie with Sweden midway through the second period of the final. Mäenalanen also played with Aho through three seasons with Oulun Kärpät, winning the league championship in both 2014 and 2015 and getting a bronze in 2016.
Mäenalanen would be the second tallest forward on this team at 6-foot-4, behind only Jordan Staal, but at 185 pounds he still has a lot more bulking up to do. Nevertheless, having a more physically imposing figure in a shutdown or penalty killing role could do a lot for the Hurricanes. With development, Mäenalanen could also add some scoring depth on the left wing for the bottom lines, which will undergo some fairly drastic changes in the near future.
If he doesn’t work out in the end, it wouldn’t be much of a blow. The Canes have the most cap space in the league. Even with many key players becoming RFAs (most notably Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm) or in need of extensions, the current $27 million cap space is more than enough to eat Mäenalanen’s entry-level contract.
- According to Don Waddell, everyone on this team is fair game for trades except Sebastian Aho. Jeff Skinner is the most notable name, and I for one would really hate to see him go. The Canes are in desperate need of scoring and goaltending, and there’s no one on the market who would grant a sizable increase in scoring or give the Canes the star goaltender they need. It wouldn’t be worth it.
- Checkers end-of-year awards are in. These are all names that fans will be hearing way more of in the future, so it’s good to keep them in mind. (Most of them were also featured in my previous prospect watch articles, so head on over there if you want to know more.) Lucas Wallmark was the team MVP, Valentin Zykov the best forward, Trevor Carrick best defenseman, Warren Foegele rookie of the year, Alex Nedeljkovic most improved player and Clark Bishop the unsung hero of the team.