NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Pittsburgh Penguins got a steal or a reach, depending on your preferred draft service, in the third round of the 2023 NHL Draft, though you may need a little help saying his name regardless of your position.
The Penguins traded out of the 90th overall pick, giving the selection to the New York Rangers, in exchange for the 91st overall pick and a 2024 seventh rounder. The Penguins selected defenseman Emil Pieniniemi of Karpat U20 in the Finnish Jr. league.
Pienineimi, 18, is listed at 6-foor-2, 176 pounds. He played only one scoreless game for Karpat in the Finnish Liiga, and Pieniniemi said the immediate plan is to stay in Finland and mature there.
“I think I’m a good two-way defenseman, and I can skate well,” said Pieniniemi, who also said he’d like to add more physicality to his game.
It should be noted Pienineimi could have played for the Karpat U18 team but did so for only three games before playing 31 games with the U20 club and he played one with Karpat of the Liiga.
In 31 games with Karpat U20, Pieniniemi had 13 points (1-12-13) and was a minus-1 with 18 penalty minutes.
The young man, who doesn’t speak English well, braved the Pittsburgh media contingent after being selected Thursday. His answers were only a few words at a time, but the smile said much more. He also took the nine-hour flight with family to be in Nashville for the moment. His agent joined the family.
“I feel so good. I have been dreaming about it all my life,” Pienineimi said.
He said he spoke to the Penguins a couple of times prior to the draft and those talks went well.
Pieniniemi’s draft rankings varied wildly. He was ranked 31st amount European skaters by Central Scouting. He was ranked as low as 191st by McKeen’s hockey and 176th by FloHockey.
The left-handed defenseman was a member of the Finnish national team. In five games at the U18 Word Junior Championships, he had one assist. He had five assists in 17 international games last season.
His favorite player growing up was Pavel Datsyuk, and the player he’d like to emulate now is Dallas Stars d-man Miro Heiskanen.
The Penguins selected Moose Jaw Warriors center Brayden Yager with the 14th overall selection Wednesday.