During Kyle Dubas’ time in Toronto, they had Ville Koivunen highly rated going into the 2021 NHL Draft. While Koivunen ultimately went to Carolina in the second round (51st overall), Dubas eventually landed the Finnish forward after coming to the Penguins.

Pittsburgh’s President of Hockey Operations and GM pushed to include Koivunen as part of the return for Jake Guentzel back in the spring, saying, “he was one of their players we targeted very highly” – and Penguins management is excited about the 21-year-old’s potential now that he’s in the mix.

“Hockey sense, I think, would be the biggest thing,” Penguins assistant GM Jason Spezza said after Koivunen’s first day of development camp on Saturday. “He thinks the game at a very high level. I think he's able to manipulate defenders with his subtle movements, and he's very dangerous on the power play coming downhill.

“I think the important part of development for him would be just getting the pace of his skating up, (getting) stronger, now that you’re stepping into playing against men all the time. Even though he did that in Finland, the rink closes a little quicker on you in the American League and the NHL. So, we'll help him with that transition. But with the hockey IQ, I think that's the exciting part for us.”

Koivunen made progress in learning the culture and style of play in North America during his short stint with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton following an excellent season with Karpat of Liiga. Koivunen finished second in goals (22) and points (56) while leading in assists (34). His totals went way up compared to the previous year, when Koivunen recorded 12 goals, 16 assists, and 28 points.

“I'm a skillful guy in the offensive zone, so I like to make plays for my teammates and myself, too,” Koivunen said. “Skating helped me a lot, using my strength… of course, linemates always help, and our power play was pretty good. We scored a lot of goals on the power play. So, of course, that helps too.”

Koivunen speaks with the media

Koivunen played with Penguins prospect Emil Pieniniemi on Karpat, who called Ville a “cool kid” that’s “pretty social, he likes to talk with everyone.” In eastern Pennsylvania, Koivunen was reunited with former Karpat teammate and roommate Joel Blomqvist – Pittsburgh’s 2020 second-round pick.

“I know him pretty well,” the netminder said. “He's a great guy and a good player, yeah. I think he will be a good fit here… I think he's a really, really skilled player and reads the game well. He can make some pretty sick plays if we need, and just a reliable player.”

After joining WBS, Koivunen registered a goal and an assist in two games before the Penguins got eliminated in their best-of-three opening round.

“It's unfortunate he only got a couple games in Wilkes,” Spezza said. “I think he would have benefited from more American League games, but it is what it is, and I thought that he showed well in those games. He's able to make plays at a quick pace.”

Whether Koivunen needs more time to acclimate or contends for Pittsburgh’s roster right away, he’s an integral part of the incoming youth movement Dubas says the Penguins need.

“Of course they want us to play in the NHL, want us to improve… they maybe give us good chances there, so of course it gives me motivation and helps me a lot there,” Koivunen said. “I want to play in the NHL, like every guy here wants to play there… but I have to work hard and play good. So, it’s going to be a long way, but I have to work hard.”