ShareThis Page
Penguins gaining greater European influence |

Penguins gaining greater European influence

Jonathan Bombulie
| Sunday, July 8, 2018 6:48 p.m
Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta skates against the Devils during the second period Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Newark, N.J.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Dominik Simon takes the puck from the Red Wings' Frans Nielsen in the second period Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, at PPG Paints Arena.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin moves the puck up ice during their game against the Capitals inside of PPG Paints Arena on May 3, 2018.
Getty Images
Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta battles for the puck with Washington's Devante Smith-Pelly during the first period of Game 6 on Monday at PPG Paints Arena.

It was just past lunchtime on a quiet late June day when a roar rattled the walls of the Cranberry hotel where Penguins prospects were staying for development camp.

It wasn’t a rowdy party starting early. No need to call hotel security.

The Swedish prospects at camp had simply gathered to watch their home country’s pool-play game against Mexico in the World Cup, and they were excited when the boys in yellow and blue scored a goal.

Such celebrations are going to be more common in areas where Penguins players congregate over the next few years.

While it hasn’t reached the saturation point of the Craig Patrick era in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the European influence on the Penguins organization is on the rise.

“Being a USA Hockey guy and playing against the Europeans so many different times, they’re really good hockey players,” Penguins director of player development Scott Young said.

Starting with the drafting of Jaromir Jagr in 1990, the Penguins were on the cutting edge of the NHL’s European invasion a generation ago. By 2000, they made Ivan Hlinka one of the first European born and trained head coaches in the NHL. Nineteen European players suited up for at least one game that season.

Eventually, the European influence on the league and on the Penguins roster waned. The rise of Russia’s KHL kept many talented players from leaving home. By the heart of the Ray Shero era in 2011, the Penguins had only two European players, Evgeni Malkin and Zbynek Michalek, on the roster.

Slowly but surely, the European influence has returned under Jim Rutherford. By the 2015-16 championship season, there were nine Europeans on the NHL roster. Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, Olli Maatta, Daniel Sprong and Dominik Simon figure to be key players in the fall.

There are several reasons for the renaissance.

One is the emergence of Patrik Allvin in the scouting department. Rutherford greatly respects the opinion of the 43-year-old Swede, promoting him to head scout a year ago. Over the past four drafts, the Penguins used 11 of their 20 picks on European players.

Two-way centers Linus Olund and Teddy Blueger are good candidates to see NHL time this season as are newly signed defenseman Juuso Riikola and winger Tobias Lindberg, who was acquired in the Derick Brassard deal.

In addition, European players are often closer to NHL ready after being drafted than North American players. Considering the rate at which the Penguins deal away high picks in an effort to win now, shortening the incubation period for prospects isn’t a bad idea.

An 18-year-old North American prospect will be playing against competition of a similar age in college or juniors. An 18-year-old European prospect often plays in his country’s elite league.

“I’ve been playing three years there, playing against men, playing professionally,” Olund said. “I think I have an advantage coming over here.”

Also, European prospects don’t have as difficult a time adjusting to the smaller ice surfaces and more physical style of play in North America as they used to. Technology has made the world smaller in that regard.

“They’re so much more informed now,” player development coach Jarrod Skalde said. “They understand what they’re getting into. I think it’s a very quick adjustment for a lot of these guys.”

Finally, the European influence is growing simply because it’s a strong era for hockey on the continent, especially in Sweden and Finland.

The Finns won gold at the World Junior Championships in 2014 and 2016 and have medaled in the last three Olympics played with NHL-caliber players. The Swedes have won the last two IIHF World Championships.

“They’re doing a great job, all the way from under-16s to the professional level,” Olund said. “It’s great.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review NHL/Penguins reporter. You can contact Jonathan via Twitter .

Categories: Penguins
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.