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Walleye receive big boost from AHL affiliate

10/10/2017, 9:50pm EDT
By By MARK MONROE BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Walleye receive big boost from AHL affiliate

Toledo forward Zach Nastasiuk celebrates scoring a goal of the game vs. Kalamazoo. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

The Walleye received a shot in the arm from their American Hockey League affiliate with the assignment of three players to Toledo's roster today.

The Grand Rapids Griffins reassigned forward Zach Nastasiuk and defensemen Vili Saarijarvi and Patrick McCarron to the Walleye today.

Both Nastasiuk and Saarijarvi were high picks in the NHL draft by the Detroit Red Wings. Both also have played for the Walleye.

“It's a pleasant surprise,” Walleye coach Dan Watson said. “It definitely bolsters our already strong roster. That is why we have such a great affiliate. They are deep up there and that is why they won the [AHL title] last season.”

Nastasiuk was picked in the second round of the 2013 NHL draft and has appeared in 72 games for the Walleye. Nastasiuk, 22, has tallied 54 points in 54 games in Toledo. The 6-foot-2 and 202-pound winger turned pro in 2015-16 and has played in 45 games in the AHL for the Griffins. The native of Barrie, Ontario has produced 23 goals and 31 assists for the Walleye.

“Zach is a third-year pro, so I'm sure he's disappointed. I'm sure he thought he had a better chance of sticking [with Grand Rapids],” Watson said. “But I think it will be good for his development to get more playing time here.”

Saarijarvi, a 20-year-old rookie, was selected in the third round of the 2015 NHL draft. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound defenseman made his pro debut with Toledo at the end of the 2015-16 campaign. The native of Finland tallied one goal and had three assists in five games with the Walleye.

“Vili is only 20. But he has all the tools,” Watson said. “He can skate, he can move the puck. He plays with his head up.”

McCarron, a 23-year-old rookie from Toronto, played four seasons at Cornell University where he accumulated 50 points (12 G, 38 A) in 123 games. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman made his pro debut with the Griffins in the 2016-17 regular season finale at Milwaukee and picked up his first pro point on an assist.

“He's a big body. A sturdy defenseman,” Watson said. “But he's very versatile. He's an older rookie. He gets it. He'll be a great fit.”

The Walleye will board a bus on Wednesday for their season opener at Quad City on Friday. The trip to Moline, Ill. on the Iowa border takes about six hours.

Watson must submit his regular-season roster to the ECHL office by 3 p.m. on Wednesday. ECHL teams can carry a maximum of 20 players (21 for the first 30 days of the regular season) on their active roster (not counting players on reserve or injured reserve).

With the trio added from the AHL club, the team is at 23. But defenseman Beau Schmitz suffered a lower body injury in practice and likely will start the season on the injured reserve list.

“Both Nastasiuk and Saarijarvi are early-round draft picks. So it's part of our job to develop them into NHL players,” Watson said. “We're fortunate they are coming to Toledo. We don't know how long they will be here. But they will be big pieces of what we're trying to do here. While they are here, we want to help them continue to grow.”

Contact Mark Monroe at mmonroe@theblade.com419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.

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