The Pittsburgh Penguins have officially signed Niclas Almari to a three-year entry-level contract. The 20-year old defenseman has played in Finland’s Liiga for the last several years, but is now expected to come to North America and compete for a spot on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Assistant GM Bill Guerin released a statement on the signing:
Since we drafted Niclas he has developed exactly how we want our prospects to progress, at a steady incline. Each year, he has continued to get better. When we drafted him, he was playing big minutes for his junior team. Niclas eventually graduated to Finland’s top league, getting his feet wet by playing a secondary role before assuming major minutes for eventual league champion HPK this year.
Now we feel he is ready to come over to North America and contribute. As is the case with any young player that we bring over, we want to manage expectations his first year and put Niclas in a position to succeed.
Almari was a fifth-round pick of the Penguins in 2016, and as Guerin points out has found more and more success each season since. This season he recorded just five points in 42 regular season games, but will leave Finland with a league title under his belt. That playoff experience will be invaluable as he tries to make the jump to the North American professional ranks, a challenge that will test his offensive ceiling. His low point totals in Finland shouldn’t necessarily discount that ability, though in order to reach the NHL he’ll have to at least be able to move the puck quickly and effectively out of his own end.
If Pittsburgh can squeeze some production out of Almari it would be a huge development for their 2016 draft class. No one has yet cracked the NHL from that group, and the one perhaps the closest, goaltending prospect Filip Gustavsson, was traded to the Ottawa Senators last season. The lack of impact draft picks for Pittsburgh over the last several years is a big part of why the team is so active in the college and international free agent markets, but it would be more helpful if they could hit on a few of these mid or late-round selections. Since 2013, Jake Guentzel and Dominik Simon are the only Pittsburgh draft picks to have suited up for at least 100 games with the Penguins. Tristan Jarry, Kasperi Kapanen (who was traded) and Daniel Sprong (also traded) are the only other players to have even played in the NHL.