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Tampa Bay Lightning draft Joona Saarelainen in 5th Round, Pick 149

The Lightning selected Joona Saarelainen, a Finnish 5’9″ center, with their 5th round draft pick. Saarelainen had 36 points in 41 games in his season in the Finnish Junior League with KalPa. Though he is considered undersized, the center is has high offensive skill and skating with considerable two-way play.

Saarelainen’s development is outlined as a nonlinear path for his level, as he was regarded as one of the more skilled forwards when he made the roster for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup underaged in 2022. However, his game transitioned to a much more two-way focused style with a non-stop engine, fast skating, and puck-carrying capabilities. With a 91 overall rating from Elite Prospects, driven primarily by his transition and defensive ratings, he makes up for his size when being considered a potential NHL player (via Elite Prospect Draft Guide).

In his U18 season, Saarelainen captained the Finland team at different events, including this past Hlinka-Gretzky Cup. There is skepticism in whether his game translates to the NHL game, but his “bulldog mentality” and transition play gives him checking-role potential (according to the Hockey Prospects Draft Black Book).

U17 5 Nations Tournaments Highlights (#24)

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