It’s the first week of our 2020 Top 25 Under 25: Winter Edition and it’s time to discuss the community vote. I have to say right off the bat, you people are monsters who have destroyed the careers of these three young prospects. You will never be forgiven. Which three prospects, you may ask? Well, let’s get into it.
#25 - Topi Niemelä - RD - Drafted 2020 - Round 3, Pick #64
2021 Team: Karpat, Liiga
Stats: 9GP - 0G - 3A - 3Pts
After starting the year in the Finnish U20 league, Niemelä got called up to the Men’s team and has been playing comfortably on the second and third pairings. He’s heading to Edmonton this week with Team Finland to compete in the 2021 World Junior Championships.
Niemelä (along with forward Roni Hirvonen) were acquired through picks traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Ottawa Senators, who moved up in the Draft to pick Tyler Kleven at 44th overall. Niemelä was ranked between 37-47 by the major outlets, and higher by various other scouting groups. The right-shot defenseman was seen by many to be a really good pick, especially considering where he was taken.
#24 - Pontus Holmberg - C/LW - Drafted 2018 - Round 6, Pick #156
2021 Team: Växjö Lakers HC, SHL
Stats: 18GP - 5G - 4A - 9Pts
Holmberg has been in the Leafs system for two and a half seasons now. Drafted in the sixth round in 2018, Holmberg has played for Sweden at the World Juniors and been a staple (on the wing) in the SHL for three seasons now.
Holmberg has been described as a smart, quick, offensive forward that also plays a professional game that includes backchecking, effort in the defensive zone, and all the other little things coaches like in a player. He was very impressive as the 4C (seriously) in his season on Sweden’s U20 team and he seems to have built on that effort in the SHL.
#23 - Roni Hirvonen - C - Drafted 2020 - Round 2, Pick #59
2021 Team: Växjö Lakers HC, SHL
Stats: 17GP - 5G - 4A - 9Pts
The second pick for the Maple Leafs in the 2020 Draft, Hirvonen has always gotten the “small” badge slapped on him, and you can see it’s effect on his pre-draft rankings. Hirvonen, like Niemelä and fellow Leafs prospect Mikko Kokkonen, will be representing Finland at this year’s World Juniors.
He was considered a back-end of the first round talent but thrown to the back of the second for reasons. Long story short, Hirvonen can play a good game of hockey — his defensive game has been particularly impressive. Often size is an excuse to say a player will struggle in battles and in the defensive zone, but for Hirvonen that is simply not true.
Why I’m Confused
I understood Holmberg at 24; late round pick, promising developmental path as a depth player but a 50/50 prospect once he hits the AHL. He was ranked 25th by the community and 18th by the writers in the summer. He did fall down to 25th this winter for a reasons I can’t really interpret other than a trio of flashy young forwards have jumped him on the prospect chart. That said, him ending up at the end of the Top 25 isn’t unreasonable by any means.
But Hirvonen and Niemelä jumped off the page when I found where they were ranked by the community this winter. 23rd and 25th? How is that possible? This summer, in the community vote, the Leafs unnamed second round pick was ranked 12th by the writers and 18th by the community. In previous years, the Leafs second-round pick has been ranked in the teens, usually near the 10-12 range by the writers and a handful of spots lower by the community. Usually that’s because our community has tended to keep older prospects that are in or around the Marlies higher in the mind because you know there’s always a chance!
What I don’t understand this year is how Hirvonen and Niemela have been pushed all the way to the back of the Top 25 by the community? Niemela is a right-shot defenseman with NHL upside playing in an ECHL-equivalent league at 18 with a trip to the World Junior on his passport. Same for Hirvonen, who was rated very highly by people that tracked him. He is one of the few centre prospects the Leafs have going for them that could perceivably play in the NHL. Trade acquisition Filip Hallander is the other.
These are really good prospects who were picked not far from where the Leafs thought they were going to sit over the summer. I hope our opening profiles on them along with World Junior performances can put their talent on display. Because with all due respect to the guys who will show up in next week’s Community Vote recap, these two Finns should be ahead of them.
PPP’s Votes for the bottom three:
Of the jumble of names we had to choose from between 20 and 30, here is who ended up 23rd to 25th
Pontus Holmberg - 25th
Mac Hollowell - 24th
Filip Kral - 23rd
Where I ranked them:
Hirvonen - 11th
Niemela - 12th
Holmberg - 18th
Hirvonen and Niemela are in the second tier of Leafs prospects, in my opinion, with Holmberg near the top of my best-of-the-rest because I believe in him.
Who I had 23-25:
Dmitri Ovchinnikov - 23rd
Artur Akhtyamov - 24th
Kristians Rubins - 25th
These are the guys in my mushy middle. An attacker, goaltender, and defender. It is more likely these guys will end up not being close to the NHL rather than make it, but if they do it’s a great story.
I was convinced of Ovi over the summer when going over the draft. Rubins is someone I’ve believed in for a while, but frankly I put him over some prospects who are definitely more valuable than him (Axel Rindell, to name one). Akhtyamov is a goalie who has been given some respect on the international scene, but because it’s so hard for goalies to make it, I found myself struggling to bet on him (or any goalie) more than at the end of my Top 25. And no, I don’t have Woll or Scott ranked, I kinda need to see it in the AHL before I can believe they have an NHL future.
Would you rank Hirvonen and Niemela higher than 23 and 25?
This poll is closed
Yes, they’re really good
Probably in the 15-20 range, but not much higher
But Joey Duszak tho...