Our annual 2020 version of the top players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
#18: Niclas Almari, LD
2019 Ranking: #18
Age: 22 (DOB: May 11, 1998)
Acquired: 2016 NHL Draft, 5th Round (151st Overall)
Height/Weight: 6’1”/183 pounds
Per Clare McManus at Dobber Prospects:
The 21-year-old Finnish blueliner learned a lot in his first pro year with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Coming from Finland and spending years on International ice, it took him time to familiarize himself with a smaller ice surface and to adjust to the North American style of play. He was even a healthy scratch for a few games during the year. During that time he went over lot’s of footage to help grow his game. He noticed his mistakes and is working on the things he needs to do to solidify himself as a solid defenseman. Almari ended up finishing the year with one goal and six assists for seven total points in 51 games with the baby Penguins.
Per Seth Rorabaugh at Trib Live:
Almari hasn’t taken huge steps this season, but he’s heading in the right direction if he’s to become an NHL-er.
If Almari makes it to the NHL, he will be the safe left-handed partner to a right-handed defenseman who has some offensive pop. Think Brian Dumoulin or Marcus Pettersson with fewer physical gifts.
Due to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the upcoming AHL season, the Penguins loaned Niclas Almari to the Lahden Pelicans of the SM-liiga in his native country of Finland for the 2020-21 hockey season. It’s here where he will continue to develop his game with the hopes he can return to North America in 2021-22.
Following a very brief stint with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on a tryout at the end of the 2017-18 season, Almari made the full time jump to North America last season, playing in 51 AHL games with the Baby Penguins. Almari scored a goal and recorded a total of seven points during a season that saw him get an increased workload due to callups and injuries to players above him on the blue line depth chart.
Back in Finland, the 2020-21 SM-Liiga season is underway and Almari is lacing up the skated for the Lahden Pelicans with the AHL season still up in the air due to COVID-19. He was loaned to the Pelicans a few weeks back, meaning this season will still count against the three-year entry level deal he signed back in 2019 with the Penguins.
Unfortunately for Almari, it appears his development will be put on hold through Christmas as it has been reported the young defenseman will miss the next 6-8 weeks with an undisclosed injury.
From Rorabaugh at the Trib:
According to Finnish newspaper Etela-Suomen Sanomat, defenseman Niclas Almari is expected to be sidelined for six to eight weeks because of an undisclosed ailment. A sixth-round pick in 2016 (No. 151 overall), Almari 22, has appeared in three games for Pelicans and has no points. He is entering the second year of a three-year entry-level contract with the Penguins.
That’s a tough break for Almari, who, like others on this list before him, the Penguins will be counting on to further develop his game and become a viable NHL-caliber player to help restock a depleted prospect pool on defense.
Given the difference in style between the North American game and the European game, one has to wonder how this season will factor in to Almari’s overall development. He was still getting used to the smaller ice surface that is utilized in North America, but any game action he sees is better than potentially sitting on the sidelines for a whole season while the AHL is shutdown.
Regardless had he been loaned back to Finland or spent this season in the AHL, Almari was never going to see NHL action this season. Right now, any time he spends on the ice will go to furthering his development into a player the Penguins can count on down the line.
Based on what Rorabaugh wrote above in the scouting report section, it seems like Almari is developing well, though turning into the next Brian Dumoulin might be a little too high a bar to set. It’s certainly not out of the question, and great talent can be found anywhere in the draft, but right now the Penguins can’t be too picky when it comes to prospects.
Having professional experience under his belt gives him a leg up on other prospects around him, but there is still work to be done for him to become a NHL-level option the Penguins can call upon in the future. With the Penguins desperate for prospects on the blue line, these next two seasons will be crucial for them to find out exactly what they have in the former fifth round pick.