Cranberry Twp, PA — He’s coming to America. And the Pittsburgh Penguins have another goalie prospect worth your attention. Emil Larmi, his all-black pads, and his infectious laugh will most likely be in North America next season.
The emerging Finnish goalie star laughed and joked with teammates and reporters following the Team Jagr thrilling Development Camp victory Friday at the UPMC Lemieux Complex.
OK, perhaps it wasn’t that thrilling and certainly will not be remembered beyond a few standout performances. One of those performances was from the 22-year-old, 6-foot tall, 185-pound Finnish netminder. The Penguins signed the goalie to a two-year entry-level contract earlier this month. After a standout season in the Finnish Elite League, Larmi was third in both save percentage (.909) and goals against average (1.94). His team won the Finnish Elite League championship with him as the backstop.
“I love it,” Larmi gushed about his first trip to the United States which was this week. Though he couldn’t help but laugh when asked if teammate Niclas Almari who has become the Finnish translator for defenseman Valtteri Puuskinen and tour guide for the Fins was indeed a good tour guide.
“No,” he chirped.
The small scoop Friday night came when PHN asked Larmi about his plans for next season. Could we see him in North America?
“North America. Yes,” he replied with a certain satisfaction that he’s made it this far.
If the kid loves Cranberry, Pittsburgh may blow his mind. New York City is also a short ride from Wilkes-Barre if he happens to end up there. Or look out Wheeling if the Penguins begin next season with Tristan Jarry in the WBS Penguins net, however unlikely that scenario seems.
Penguins Director of Player Development Scott Young did not dispute Larmi’s belief he will be a North American goalie next season.
“I think so, yes. Yes,” Young laughed to underscore the obvious nature of the answer.
There are more than a few comparisons between Larmi and former Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The easy laugh. The athletic goalie performance. The movement. Even the single color pads. Once upon a time, Fleury was known for the solid, bright yellow pads. Larmi has gone in a different direction.
“They look good. That’s the only reason,” he laughed. As we chatted further, he wanted to talk more about his pads. “Look,” he said while grabbing one. “They’re awesome.”
Larmi even tried to score an empty-net goal towards the end of the scrimmage but failed. Just like Fleury.
And the pads are pretty cool, too. You can’t see from the stands, but the leg pads have subtle red stitching. Kind of like black leather seats in a European sports car. Those black pads were put to frequent use during the three-on-three development camp. Perhaps they won’t be so challenged during regular season 5v5 play.
Larmi will adjust to the smaller rinks and the different angles. The conventional wisdom is the faster game with a puck which can seem like a bouncy ball by comparison to the larger rinks will challenge a goalie. But Larmi was surprised…that it wasn’t more difficult.
“Of course it was a bit different. But I was waiting for a bigger difference. than what it is,” Larmi said. “I think we’ll see it later when we play five against five like that.”
Larmi may have an accelerated growth curve in North American professional hockey. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goalie situation isn’t entirely settled. Tristan Jarry will be on the second year of his two-year contract signed last summer. However, it is an NHL only deal and he is no longer waiver exempt so the Penguins have a serious decision to make with the young netminder. A trade seems most likely but Jarry’s potential and pedigree probably outweigh his current standing.
If the Penguins deal Jarry or NHL backup Casey DeSmith, Larmi could vault to the starting goalie in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Presuming he can handle the job.
The athletic goalie who already has an Elite League championship on his resume and an attitude which will endear him to teammates could be the Penguins secret answer and yet another Finnish player they’ve snagged. The Penguins scouts picked up on Juuso Riikola last summer and inked the 24-year-old to his first North American contract. Last week, the scouts were adamant the Penguins trade back into the seventh round for a second pick.
The Penguins took Finnish defenseman Valterri Puuskinen, who also showed very well at Development Camp, with the 207th pick. Then acquired the 211th pick to snag fellow Finnish rearguard Santeri Airola.
The Penguins have been building quite the pipeline for Finnish defenseman. Now it appears they’ve found a goalie to with them. Even if he does need a better tour guide.