The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed 20-year-old Finnish defenseman Niclas Almari to a three-year, entry-level contract, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford.
Pittsburgh selected Almari in the fifth round (151st overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft. He played the last three years in his native Finland with HPK, helping the club win the playoff championship in the top Finnish league, Liiga, earlier this month.
"Since we drafted Niclas he has developed exactly how we want our prospects to progress, at a steady incline," assistant general manager Bill Guerin said. "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, who will turn 21 on May 11, skated in all 18 playoff games for HPK during its championship run, which ended victoriously on May 4. During the regular season, Almari saw action in 42 contests, contributing five points (1G-4A). Fans can see a photo of Almari with Liiga's championship trophy on his Twitter account, @AlmariNiclas.
This fall, Almari projects to begin his first full season in North America skating with the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Wherever Almari ends up, Guerin noted that in addition to making a good first pass out of his zone, fans can expect to see a "smart, all-around defenseman whose game is very reliable" when watching Almari.
Almari, who stands 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, actually made his North American debut with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton late in the 2017-18 campaign. He followed up a pair of AHL regular-season appearances by notching an assist with a plus-3 in his lone playoff appearance. The year prior, Almari participated in practices with WBS near the conclusion of the 2016-17 season.
A native of Espoo, Finland, Almari logged games in Liiga each of the past three years with HPK, compiling 18 points (8G-10A) and a plus-4 in 107 regular-season games.