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Penguins hoping Ville Koivunen’s hockey IQ can help him cash in

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Koivunen could be the key to making/breaking the Jake Guentzel trade for the Penguins. The organization is raving over what they see so far at development camp

The Penguins are getting the chance this week to see a host of their newly young prospects for the first time this week with practices in Cranberry. One of the more intriguing players is forward Ville Koivunen. Koivunen, 21, a 2021 second round pick by Carolina, came over in the Jake Guentzel trade.

Koivunen is arguably the key young piece of the deal for Pittsburgh. His stock has been sky rocketing after a 56 point in 59 game performance in 2023-24 with Karpat in the Finnish Liiga.

Koivunen chalks his progression to increased skating ability.

“I’m a skillful guy in the offensive zone, so I like to make plays for my teammates and myself, too,” Koivunen said. “Skating helped me a lot, using my strength… of course, linemates always help, and our power play was pretty good. We scored a lot of goals on the power play. So, of course, that helps too.”

The Pens like Koivunen’s hockey sense. In many regards, this next quote could apply a lot to the player in Guentzel that Koivunen was traded for.

“Hockey sense I think would be the biggest thing,” Penguins assistant general manager Jason Spezza said. “He thinks the game at a very high level. He’s able to manipulate defenders with his subtle movements. He’s very dangerous on the power play coming downhill. It’s unfortunate he only got a couple of games (with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) because I think he would have benefited from more (AHL) games. But it is what it is, and I thought he showed well in those games. He’s able to make plays at a quick pace.

“The important part of development for him would be just getting the pace of his skating up, stronger. Now, you’re stepping into playing against men all the time. Even though he did that in Finland, the rink closes a little quicker on you in the (AHL) and the NHL. We’ll help him with that transition. But with the hockey IQ, that’s the exciting part for us.”

2024-25 will be an exciting year for Penguin prospects. The pipeline is starting to get some players into the system with Koivunen, Tristan Broz and Owen Pickering all beginning their full-time AHL work in the coming season. Vasily Ponomarev, also acquired in the Guentzel deal and projects as a bottom-six player, will be a little ahead of them in knocking on the door for NHL action as well. Add in Joel Blomqvist (and maybe even Sergei Murashov) and that’s as much young talent (many drafted in either the first and second round) that has been in the Penguins’ organization for a long time.

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