The 2023 version of the Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 countdown list continues with the first entry from Kyle Dubas’ drafting, in the form of a Finnish defender the Penguins will hope continues to grow and develop.
2023 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed
#25: Daniel Laatsch
#24: Cooper Foster
#23: Thimo Nickl
#22: Dillon Hamaliuk
#21 Mikhail Ilyin
#20: Jack St. Ivany
#19: Chase Yoder
#18: Emil Jarventie
#17: Nolan Collins
#16: Raivis Ansons
#15: Ty Glover
#14: Taylor Gauthier
#13: Isaac Belliveau
#12: Lukas Svejkovsky
#11: Tristan Broz
#10: Sergei Murashov
#9: Emil Pieniniemi, LHD
2022 Ranking: N/A
Age: 18 (Mar. 2, 2005)
Acquired Via: 2023 NHL Draft (Round 3 - No. 91 overall)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 174 pounds
The Penguins utilized their second draft pick of the Kyle Dubas era, in the third round, this summer on Finnish defenseman Emil Pieniniemi. (Phonetically: pee-en-ee-emie. Or think saying the letter “P” then “en” then the old goalie “Niemi” seems to work about as good as any quick and dirty guide).
Quickly after the draft, the Pens moved to get Pieniniemi under contract. Despite that, he’s expected to be back in Karpat in Finland for 2023-24 to develop more back at home with the club he has grown with over the years through their various junior team and all the way up to the international stage and NHL prospect.
At the draft, Pieniniemi described himself as a two-way defenseman who can skate well. That scouting report was backed up. Here are a few others:
A big kid (6-foot-2) and above average skater, Pieniniemi looks the part of an NHL defender. His offensive game is simple but effective. Pieniniemi knows his limitations and doesn’t attempt to do too much with the puck on his stick. He should get a chance at regular playing time in Finland’s top league this coming season, at which point we should get an idea of just how much future potential Pieniniemi possesses.
Pieniniemi has the toolkit of an NHL defenseman. Specifically his 6-foot-2 frame and the way he skates. He has a fluid stride in all directions with good power. He’s able to skate pucks up the ice well, can close on checks quickly and navigate the blue line with his feet. I don’t think Pieniniemi stands out defensively, though, despite his range and mobility, but that’s something that he projects to be as a pro. He ideally would add more physicality to his game. Offensively he shows good instances of skill. I wouldn’t describe him as a natural puck-mover, so exactly what his NHL role will be is unclear, but he has the components to be an NHL player on a third pair.
Emil Pieniniemi is a 6-foot-2 blueliner who can log big minutes and contributing on both special teams. He’s a safeguard in the neutral zone, where he pinches aggressively and gaps up early, guiding opponents towards the boards before engaging physically. In the defensive end, he pins up opponents along the boards and has a solid box-out game
WBS Penguins via Central Scouting:
Listed as 6-foot-2 by NHL Central Scouting, Pieniniemi is a well-rounded, do-it-all defenseman with a game predicated on taking care of business in his own zone. He used his reach to his advantage, thinks the game well, and won’t shirk his defensive responsibilities. He has some budding offensive tools that could develop, but he still has a slick and efficient first pass to move the puck up ice.
At this point in his development, most seem to agree what Pieniniemi is and is not. He’s not an electric player who oozes talent with the puck. He does have a great frame and a lot of potential to grow into more.
Pieniniemi showed some of that at the 2023 U-18 World Championship, being named Finland’s player of the game a losing effort in the quarterfinals to Slovakia. Pieniniemi’s solid showing in that venue no doubt helped boost his profile to become a mid-round NHL pick at this year’s draft.
He followed up a busy summer of getting drafted, going to Pittsburgh for the first time for prospect camp by playing in Michigan for a “World Junior Summer Showcase” representing his native Finland.
Based on where he played at that Summer Showcase, The Athletic has not only projected that Pieniniemi will make Finland’s U-20 World Junior championship team this winter but that he will, “probably going to be asked to play hard minutes” on the second pair. That should make for a great measuring stick to watch Pieniniemi get the opportunity to compete against top players in that age group.
Fittingly enough, Pieniniemi enters the Pens’ organization as a result of the pick they acquired with Ty Smith in exchange for John Marino. Like Marino, Pieniniemi profiles as a defender who won’t blow observers away by being a dominant player that jumps off the ice with a huge skill level, yet can be effective with good size, moves around the ice well enough and (hopefully) can develop into being a steady, solid type of defender for the future like Marino does at the very highest level.
Pieniniemi still has a bit of developing to go, as any young draftee does. But with the possibility for a lot of time in Finland’s top league in 2023-24 and a key role in the U-20 WJC tournament looming, the future looks very bright for this player to get the chance to develop and grow into a potential contributor for the Pens one day in the future in some manner.