Expect more Swedes and Finns to show up on the roster rolls of the Vancouver Canucks as first year NHL general manager Patrik Allvin taps into his sources back home in Europe. The 47-year-old GM from Leksand, Sweden made a habit of giving Nordic free agents an opportunity to help the Penguins cause when he was an assistant GM in Pittsburgh.
Tuesday we met Swedish forward Nils Aman, the 22-year-old who signed a two-way, two year-deal, identical to that of right-shot center Linus Karlsson, his countryman who signed almost two weeks ago. Aman played last season in Leksand in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), the top league in the country, while Karlsson was skating in the SHL for Skelleftea.
Why not? One might ask. Approximately 30% of the National Hockey League is made up of European players in 2022, with Sweden (106 players) and Finland (63) featuring the largest contingents. Those numbers fluctuate a bit on a regular basis throughout the season. The Vancouver Canucks are slightly below the average ratio.
Although he’s Swedish, Allvin is equally as fond of Finnish players. Again, as he should be. The Finns were both the non-NHL Olympic champions and the World Champions in 2022, only the second time a country has turned that trick in history. Sweden did it first in 2006 and they did it with NHLers playing in Torino. They beat Finland in the Gold Medal game.
Here’s a trio of Penguins signees that have met with a various degree of success.
Juuso Riikola is a decent sized, left-shot defenceman who the Penguins signed in May of 2018. His hop over the Pond after six years in the top Finnish Liiga started with promise but seemed to flounder. Maybe he wasn’t creating enough offence. Still in the organization four years later, he played 53 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL this past season.
While Riikola is now 28, a niftier pick up was Valterri Puustinen in the 7th round of the 2019 NHL Draft. The right wing’s talents transferred more efficiently and there appears to be a decent NHL upside after a 42 point season, including 20 goals, in the AHL. He’s not big but he’s sturdy, and finding the 200-foot game will find him the ice time.
To conclude this triumvirate we go with a goalie, Emil Larmi, a 25-year-old Finn who had moderate success in the AHL after signing with the Penquins in 2019. Apparently fainting spells factored into his performance and raised health questions following his North American debut. He’s returned home and then actually played in both Liiga and the SHL this past season.
Again, just a sampling, an indication of what could be ahead in terms of trial and error. If you have a pipeline, use it. An NHL franchise is allowed 50 players under contract in an organization; at the end of this past season the Vancouver Canucks had 47.
You get the idea. We’ll talk about NHL Nordic success stories shortly.