It’s late October and that should mean professional hockey is gearing up to full throttle. That’s not the case in North America, with unknown plans to start the 2020-21 season. With that in mind, teams have loaned out young players to Europe, especially for natives or where connections are already established. The Penguins are no different with seven players loaned out during this unknown autumn to let some players get some hockey work and games in.
Here’s a list of them and how they’re doing so far. All loans are “short term” and scheduled to end whenever Pittsburgh’s NHL camp opens, unless otherwise noted below.
Niclas Almari (Pelicans, SM-Liiga [Finland]): Almari has no points in three games so far with the Pelicans. Penguins? Pelicans? Close enough, right? At 22 and a defensive defenseman, Almari only scored five total points in 42 games in 2018-19, his last season in the Liiga (then with HPK).
Kasper Bjorkqvist (KooKoo, SM-Liiga): In seven games, Bjorkqvist has eight points (4G+4A), making him the leading scorer for KooKoo right now. That’s a very welcome development for Bjorkqvist, whose age-22 season last year was all but wiped out last year with only six AHL games before he tore his ACL and would be knocked out of the rest of last season. Bjorkqvist will stay in Finland for the entirety of the 2020-21 season per the terms of his loan.
Jan Drozg (HK Olimpija Ljubjana, Alps Hockey League [Slovenia]): Our 22nd ranked young player in the Pens’ organization is lighting up the lower-end Slovenian league with seven points (2G+5A) in just three games so far. That’s great and what you want to see, a skilled player getting the chance to play some games and put up some points, even if everyone knows the competition isn’t the best.
Emil Larmi (HPK, SM-liiga): Larmi is back with HPK, the team he played for from 2016-17 to 2018-19 and won a title with in ‘19 on a short-term loan. He’s yet to appear in a game just yet, but the other goalies haven’t done well. HPK only has two wins in the first nine games of the season, ranking just 13th in the standings in a 15 team league so far, so they appear to be able to use what has been a very strong goalie in the SM-liiga level before in Larmi.
Jesper Lindgren, (Modo, HockeyAllsvensken [Sweden]): The 23-year old Lindgren was picked up by Pittsburgh from Toronto in the trade that sent Kasperi Kapanen to the Pens. Lindgren is pretty much a non-factor though, he only played 31 games with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL last season and is a restricted free agent in the NHL next year. Will the Pens bring him back? We’ll see, but Lindgren is in Sweden all season this year with his loan. He’s playing well and five points (0G+5A) in seven games, he’s actually leading his team in scoring. But he’s also playing in the Allsvensken league, which is the AHL of Sweden’s leagues, and not up in the SHL level (which correlates to the NHL level). In all, it doesn’t look like much of a future this side of the Atlantic given contractual status and current positioning well off the radar and not primed for top competition.
Cam Lee (HC Slovan Bratislava, Slovakian Extraliga): This is one of the most interesting cases, because Lee is as of now the only non-European Penguin to pick up an assignment to a European team. The Nova Scotian has not yet played a game in Slovakia, but as you can see from the title picture, his team has a “Robo Penguin”-esque logo and he has participated in a practice and will probably make his pro debut pretty soon in a strange land, funny enough.
Radim Zohorona (BK Mlada Boleslav, ELH [Czech Republic]): Our 25th ranked young player in the Pens’ organization had a great breakout year in the Czech league in 2018-19 and has picked off exactly where he left off. Zohorna has five points (2G+3A) in four games to lead his team, the same one he played for last year.
A common connection is that none of these players were expected to make NHL impacts for Pittsburgh in 2020-21, but there’s still quite a bit of value in tracking how players like Bjorkqvist and Lee do overseas and in hopes they could one day develop into players that could be in the NHL one day.