The Florida Panthers made their first trade of the 2019-20 regular season, a like-for-like AHL swap, exiling a former 2nd round pick in exchange for a younger former 3rd round pick.
Saarela, 22, was a former 3rd round pick by the New York Rangers but was dealt to Chicago in 2017. The forward has been spending the last three seasons in the AHL after moving from his native country of Finland.
Saarela has molded his game into a proven AHL goalscorer, scoring six goals in nine games in his brief first action in the AHL in 2017. In his first full season of 2017-18, he scored 25, throwing in 18 more assists in 69 games. Last season was his best, tallying 54 points (30 goals, 24 assists) in 69 games. He also has 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists) across 30 AHL playoff games.
Saarela played the end of the pre-season with the Blackhawks before being sent down to the Rockford IceHogs, where he had just one assist in five games before the trade.
Saarela will report to AHL Springfield momentarily, where he will join future NHLers Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett. At 22, there is plenty of time for Saarela to earn his stripes in the Panthers’ organization.
On the other side of the deal, Ian McCoshen’s tenure in Florida is over after six years. McCoshen was drafted with the first pick of the 2nd round back in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and it’s fair to say that the pick has not worked out.
McCoshen, once expected to be a consistent 2nd pairing defenseman for the Panthers, never seemed to develop. McCoshen played just 60 games for the Panthers across three seasons, totalling just 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists).
In his biggest season, McCoshen played 38 games back in 2017-18. He scored three goals and added one assist, had a plus-minus of -10 and served 25 minutes worth of penalties. It’s frustrating for Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, who had so much faith in McCoshen’s diversity on the blue line to both defend and create goals, yet it just never forged.
The Blackhawks are currently going through a massive rebrand on the blue line. They acquired Olli Maatta via a trade, and signed Calvin de Haan, alongside giving waiver claim Slater Koekkoek another crack in the NHL.
With Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook beginning to age, the Blackhawks are looking to usher in some new Blackhawks defensemen for the next several years. At 24, there is a chance that a change of scenery could help McCoshen rebrand his career.
The Blackhawks have excelled recently at helping players that have needed this change of scenery. Forward Dylan Strome was incredibly underwhelming in Arizona, failing to score more than 23 points in a single season for three years. Instantly, Strome exploded in the Windy City, putting up 51 points in 58 games last season.
For both teams, for at least the short-term future, the trade will have more of an impact their AHL teams rather than their NHL 23-man roster. As the years progress, Florida have more time to develop Saarela, but McCoshen needs to make an important impact in Chicago to save his career.