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Photo: Detroit Red Wings

By Brendan Savage,

Vili Saarijarvi has the offensive side of his game down.

Now, he wants to get better at the other end of the ice.

The 20-year-old defenseman is one of the Detroit Red Wings top prospects on the blue line and will begin his pro career this season with the Grand Rapids Griffins after scoring a total of 23 goals during the past two OHL seasons.

But to continue climbing the hockey ladder and achieving his ultimate goal - playing for the Red Wings - Saarijarvi knows he has to be a better two-way player.

"Yeah, for sure," said Saarijarvi, the Red Wings third-round pick (73rd overall) in the 2015 NHL draft. "I think the offensive side of my game is my better side and I have to improve my defensive zone game, just keep getting stronger and killing the cycle when big guys are going in the corners.

"Just being patient and being smart in the D zone, I think are big for me. The better I can play both ways, the better I can make myself."

Saarijarvi helped Mississauga win the OHL's Central Division title last season, recording 11 goals, 20 assists and a plus-20 rating in 34 games as the Steelheads posted a 34-21-6-7 record. In the playoffs, he bagged five goals to go with 10 assists in 20 games as Mississauga reached the OHL finals before losing to Erie.

At 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, Saarijarvi is a bit undersized and that's something else he wants to work on.

"I know I got to get stronger," said Saarijarvi, 20. "That's a big thing and I got to improve my game defensively. But at the same time, I don't want to forget my offensive game. That's been a big part of my game and I want to bring it to the next level.

"It's going to be a good, new challenge for me and I'm looking forward to it."

That said, Saarijarvi knows that the NHL is transitioning away from bigger players in favor of ones who are faster. And he thinks that suits his style.

"I think the game has gotten quicker but at the same time there is still guys that plays hard and strong," he said. "So, like I said, I can play a quick game and I have to improve my strength and get stronger.

"I'm probably not going to grow that much anymore or get much taller, so I just need to add some power so I can be ready to battle and move quickly every way."

In addition to the 54 games he played for Mississauga last season, Saarijarvi also suited up for Finland in 13 international games. That included six in the U20 World Junior Championship, where he had two goals and two assists.

He also helped Finland win the 2016 World Junior Championship, getting four assists in seven games.