The Pittsburgh Penguins put pen to paper Thursday for 2016 fifth-round draft choice (151st overall) Niclas Almari to a three-year entry-level contract, as announced by Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford.
Almari, 20, is a Finnish defenseman who has played the last three years in Finland and helped his team HPK win the Finnish Elite League championship.
“Since he was drafted, he has developed exactly how we want our prospects to progress, at a steady incline,” said assistant GM Bill Guerin. “Each year, he has continued to get better. When we drafted him, he was playing big minutes for his junior team (HPK Hameenlinna). 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.”
Based on Guerin’s comments, Almari will play next season in North America, presumably with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, though a trip to Wheeling in the ECHL or a ride in the NHL as was the case with Juuso Riikola is possible.
“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 in his first year and put Niclas in a position to succeed.”
Almari will be 21-years-old this month. He skated in all 18 playoff games for HPK but didn’t record a point. In the regular season, he played in 42 games and scored five points (1g, 4a).
The Penguins defensive prospects pool is shallow. Riikola is currently the only defenseman who finished the season with the WBS Penguins who realistically could play in the NHL at the beginning of next season. 2018 second-round selection Calen Addison also joined the Penguins AHL affiliate for the final three games of the season. He too has NHL potential.