TOLEDO, OH – The Toledo Walleye got a serious boost to their opening night roster with the addition of three young skaters. Assigned from the Grand Rapids Griffins, rookie defenseman Patrick McCarron, who enters his first full professional season. Joining McCarron in Toledo are two faces that are familiar to the franchise, forward Zach Nastasiuk and defenseman Vili Saarijarvi.
A graduate from Cornell University, McCarron skated in 123 games and managed to rack up 12 goals and earn 38 assists over his collegiate career. During his last season with Cornell, McCarron served as an alternate captain. Last season he appeared in one game with Grand Rapids, during which he had an assist. While at Cornell, McCarron was a special teams asset, so Head Coach Dan Watson may have another weapon for his power play and penalty kill unit.
The first of the two additions reassigned by Detroit to Toledo is someone Walleye fans have gotten to know quite well over the past two season, Nastasiuk. The Walleye have seen Nastasiuk develop over time into an increasingly effective ECHL player as his roles have expanded to include special teams work. A hard worker who digs deep in the corners, his success has unfortunately not translated to the AHL. In 72 ECHL games he has scored 23 goals (two on the power play) and tallied 31 assists. While in 44 games with Grand Rapids, Nastasiuk only has nine points. Expect him to spend most of the season with the Walleye as he did last year, and to once again continue his development as a hockey player.
Now for the last skater sent to the Walleye, a player who made a brief appearance for the team during the 2015-16 campaign, Saarijarvi. The 73rd pick overall by Detroit in the 2015 NHL Draft, the Finnish defenseman is most similar to Simon Denis, both physically and style wise. In 93 OHL games, the 5-10, 178 pound Saarijarvi has 74 points (23 goals, 51 assists) and in 20 playoff games last season with the Mississauga Steelheads (OHL), he scored five goals and added ten assists. When playing for Toledo in that 2015-16 season, he skated in five games and scored four points in his first professional games. Saarijarvi had a great training camp for the Red Wings and appeared in one preseason game against the Bruins, registering a shot on goal. As a result, it should be expected that he at the very least splits time between the ECHL and AHL, if not spends more time in the AHL should the roster allow it. For now though, Toledo receives a highly skilled offensive defenseman to start the season.
Toledo’s roster for opening night continues to take shape, and final decisions are to be made later today. After losing so many pieces during the summer, Toledo and Coach Watson have managed to put together another formidable group of skaters for the year. Walleye fans will get to see the team in action for the first time on Friday at Quad City for the season opener, and then eight days later at the Huntington Center for the home opener.