Justin Almeida realized a longtime dream on Saturday, signing his name on a three-year contract with NHL team the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Pens selected Justin in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL draft – the Kitimat-born 20-year-old’s contract will start when he turns pro in the 2019-20 season.
He said his agent phoned him on Saturday to tell him he had been offered a contract. Justin didn’t hesitate – he signed the contract and sent it back immediately.
“I was a little surprised, even though it’s something which I have been working for the last couple of years,” said Justin. “I played well this season and it’s nice to be recognized.”
The good news didn’t end with the signing – on Saturday Justin scored 100 points for the season during the Moose Jaw Warriors’ 6-1 win over the Regina Pats.
Justin has been one of top offensive performers in the Western Hockey League (WHL) this season with the Warriors. A multiple-time WHL Player of the Week winner this year, he currently leads the league in assists with 68 and places fourth in points with 95. He needs just four points to top his total from last season.
In 72 games played for Moose Jaw in 2017-18, he produced 43 goals, 55 assists and 98 points. His point total was 10th-best in the WHL, and his assist total ranked 12th overall.
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Justin has skated for four-plus seasons in the WHL with Moose Jaw and Prince George, tallying 83 goals, 144 assists and 227 points in 250 games.
“I’ll be going forward with the Penguins for the next three years. By the time I start playing there I will probably have moved down,” said Justin.
He said his family, who are all involved in sports, were very instrumental in launching his career from when he started playing hockey as a four-year-old.
“All the people supporting pushed me to be better. While signing the contract is awesome for myself, when my family are even happier than I am, that’s my inspiration,” said Justin.
He said Kitimat with its facilities and a close-knit hockey community is the ideal breeding ground for young hockey players. His advice to young players coming up through the ranks is to keep working hard.
“Even though you’re from a small town, dreams do still come true. Keep pushing. Good things happen if you commit to what you want,” said Justin.