Saku Maenalanen: 2018-19 By The Numbers
- Age: 25
- NHL Seasons: 1
- Games Played: 34
- Scoring: 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points
- Ice Time (per-game average): 8:59 ES, 0:21 SH, 0:06 PP
- 5-on-5 (score/venue adjusted): 48.56 CF% (-5.99 relative), 50.0 GF%, 52.47 xGF% (-3.86 relative)
- Contract Status: RFA with arbitration rights
Making the Grade
With the help of Harri Aho (Kärpät general manager and father of Sebastian Aho), Joni Pitkanen’s final impact move as a Finnish scout for the Carolina Hurricanes might’ve been his work in watching and recruiting 2018 free agent signing Saku Maenalanen, whose performance in the Finnish Liiga and in the 2018 World Championships caught Carolina’s attention and led to a one-year contract for the 2018-19 season.
Maenalanen, a 2013 fifth-round pick of the Nashville Predators who opted to continue playing in Finland as opposed to turning pro in North America, compiled 192 games played in the Liiga across five seasons before signing with Carolina at the age of 24. His first year in North America started with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL, where he took some time to adjust his game. Checkers bench boss Mike Vellucci even had some public criticism of him and held him out as a healthy scratch early in the season.
That minor rift ended up being the turning point of his season, though. From there, he established himself as a physical, high-energy player and thrived on the penalty kill while also contributing offensively in most situations.
He earned his first NHL call-up in early December. Despite logging just under seven minutes of ice time in his NHL debut in Anaheim, he made a good first impression. After seeing eight more games of AHL action, he made his permanent leap to the NHL in January. From there, the 6’4” forward skated in 33 regular season games and logged eight points in a bottom-six role. Much of his success came on a line with Greg McKegg and Warren Foegele as that trio formed a truly competitive fourth line that constantly pushed the puck into the offensive zone, played a heavy physical game, and never shorted head coach Rod Brind’Amour on effort.
Maenalanen’s physical game grew over time, as did his presence in the Carolina lineup. He earned the trust of his teammates (who affectionately nicknamed him “crazy eyes”, for good reason) and coaches thanks to his abrasive game and fearless defense of his teammates. His offensive production was touch and go, but the rest of his game certainly made up for any deficiencies in that area.
All told, it was a successful rookie campaign for Maenalanen. He came to North America to prove that he could be a regular NHL player, and that’s what he did. He proved he can be a reliable bottom-six winger who plays the simple north-south game that any coach would want, both throughout the regular season and in his nine appearances during the playoffs. He even rushed back after getting surgery on a broken hand after blocking a shot in the second round to re-enter the lineup during the Eastern Conference Final.
Good role players are key for any team that has their sights set on significant postseason success, and Maenalanen certainly fell into that category in 2018-19. The constant in his game was his effort and aggression, which was a tangible boost for the Canes. He’ll never be a heavily relied upon point-producer, but I do think he is capable of building on his first-year point-rate. Though, that’ll largely depend on what kind of role he will be utilized in.
He is a restricted free agent this summer, and while he does have arbitration rights, it shouldn’t be difficult to get him back in the fold for the 2019-20 season.
How do you grade Saku Maenalanen’s season?
This poll is closed
A - Outstanding performance
B - Above average performance
C - Average performance
D - Below average performance
F - Significantly below average performance