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Boxing Day FTB: Topi Niemela shining at World Junior Championship

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His calling card was supposed to be defense, which is why he has four points in two games

Germany v Finland: Preliminary Round Group A - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

When Topi Niemela was drafted by the Leafs in the 2020 draft, the big selling point on him was his defense. The Leafs even said they thought he had the best defensive instincts in the whole draft. Now that might be some exaggerated praise, but the main point is that what will get him to the NHL will be his defensive play. He’s a very good skater, but offense has never been one of his biggest strengths. He can make simple passes and plays, but you won’t see him pull off some end to end rushes or quarterback a powerplay.

Which is why we’ve seen him score two powerplay goals and add two more assists in his first two games at the WJC.

Now, his first game was a warmup and the second game was against a German team that had about half a full lineup due to COVID. So we should be taking his points with a massive grain of salt. But the fact he’s being used on their top PP unit is surprising by itself, and he’s scoring and getting assists by making simple but effective plays. He’s not blasting one timers into shin pads, he’s taking opportunities to make quick and accurate wrist shots when there’s a lane. Otherwise he’s making simple passes around to keep the puck moving, and getting assists from that.

And that’s not to say that his defense hasn’t been good either, because, uh...

If you don’t want to try and read this tiny writing, I can summarize it for you:

  • Niemela had an 86% transition success rate, combining his zone exit and entry attempts
  • Out of eight attempts from the other team to enter the Finnish zone against Niemela, only one was successful. He prevented one outright, retrieved three dump ins, and broke up the last one in the defensive zone.

Those two stats aren’t terribly meaningful in one game, but if you watched him play you will know it makes sense. What it also shows is how Niemela has been able to have such great possession numbers in the Liiga this year. He just makes small but smart plays that prevents teams from creating offense — especially on transition attempts — and he can transition the puck the other way so his team stays in the opposition’s zone.

Other Leafs’ Prospects:

Roni Hirvonen had 100% success rate on transition attempts and had a secondary assist on Finland’s first goal — playing LW on the top line no less — thanks to a very nice pass:

Hey, did you know that the guy the Sens took with the pick they traded up for, at the cost of two picks the Leafs used on Hirvonen and Niemela, was scratched by Team USA? Because lol.

Mikko Kokkonen looked very strong on the PK, okay otherwise and did have an assist off a deflected point shot:

Rodion Amirov did not have any points as of me writing this (Russia is up 4-2 with half of the third period to play), but he had some nice transition numbers of his own. He was also showing off his thievery skills — click and see this thread of gifs by Kevin showing a bunch of them:

Not a bad day for prospects in Leafs land. I’ll bet we all predicted that Topi Niemela would be leading them all in points at the tournament!

ONTO THE LINKS

Winter Top 25 Under 25: Final Vote and Community Vote list | by Katya

2020 Winter Top 25 Under 25 recap | by Elseldo

After an ugly 2020 for the Maple Leafs, 2021 brings reasons for optimism | by James Mirtle

Toronto Marlies: 2019-20 Season Review and a look ahead to 2021 | by Mark Rackham at MLHS

Some Leafs players appear to be having some fun at Chez Thornton over Christmas... that’s Rasmus Sandin in the orange hat, William Nylander, Joe Thornton, Auston Matthews, and Mac Hollowell on the far right.

AROUND THE HOCKEY WORLD

Capitals sign Sheary to one-year deal | by TSN.ca, a nice depth signing by the Capitals who still need a replacement for Henrik Lundqvist.

NHL will be aggressive in trying new initiatives amid hunt to grow revenues | by Elliotte Friedman at Sportsnet

On Boxing Day we have three more WJC matches:

  • Sweden vs Czech Republic
  • Germany vs Canada
  • United States vs Austria

We won’t have any more Leafs prospects playing until the 27th, when Finland faces Switzerland and Russia takes on the Czech Republic.

Have a great Boxing Day all!

Poll

Who is Topi Niemela’s best comparable?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Nik Lidstrom
    (96 votes)
  • 9%
    Bobby Orr
    (26 votes)
  • 19%
    Scott Niedermeyer
    (54 votes)
  • 36%
    Jesus
    (102 votes)
278 votes total Vote Now