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Maple Leafs select Topi Niemela at 64th overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft

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The Leafs have their next star and it’s a right handed defenseman!

Toronto Star via Getty Images

With the 64th overall pick in the 2020 NHL entry draft, The Toronto Maple Leafs selected Topi Niemela. He’s a young defensively minded defenseman, who shoots right, and played all of last year in the Liiga.

My first thoughts are that this is a FANTASTIC pick by the Leafs, especially where they got him. I would have been overjoyed if the Leafs took Niemela with the 44th pick straight up. He is defensively minded, but a fantastic skater. He has excellent results in shutting down transition, but can also still move the puck up to offense.

He doesn’t have a lot of points last year, but he also made the Liiga as a 17 year old. He seemed to change his game to more of a simple and defensive focus to stick, and it worked. But in Finnish U20 junior he was more willing to be aggressive. I can’t understate how great this pick is. I liked him more than Schneider and almost as much as Grans as some of the better RHD to take in this draft outside of Drysdale.

The hope for me is that he becomes like a John Marino, or other defensemen who drive good defensive results but aren’t big, slow, bruising defensemen. Since Niemela is 6’0”, he maintains Dubas’ streak of taking players no taller than that.

VITALS

SCOUTING REPORTS

From Scott Wheeler:

Niemelä is one of those defenders who just makes the game look easy. You can describe it in whichever terms you’d like. Comfort. Poise. Calm. Cerebral. He sees the ice in front of him, he processes his options, and he usually makes the right play. That can mean executing a smart little five-foot bump pass when a forward tries to close him out along the wall. It can mean stretching the ice with a three-zone pass. It can mean using his footwork to walk the line and create a lane on net. It can mean using his light edges to build speed through his crossovers or weave through the neutral zone. And his game is the same without the puck. He plays a tight gap when he needs to, he angles players out wide, his backwards recovery never really falters or looks flat-footed. He’s not likely going to be a power play guy and he doesn’t have the size you’d like in a penalty killer, which could limit him as more of a third-pairing option, but he still feels like an NHLer.

From Kevin Papetti:

Niemela is a standout transition defender who plays a mature game for his age. He played 43 games in Finland’s pro league this year and was a standout at both the Hlinka-Gretzky and Five Nations tournament. He’s a good four-way skater and stick-on-stick defender. While the offensive upside doesn’t quite jump off the page, his well-rounded skill set has made him a consistent top performer at international events.

I consider Niemela to be a particularly safe pick, especially if he falls into the second round on draft day. There are just no major flaws in his game. I have no doubt that he is going to be able to keep up with NHL forwards. He’s not quite big and strong enough to be your prototypical shutdown defenseman, but he shuts down opposing zone entries so well that he doesn’t spend a ton of time in his own end. He has a shot to play on both special teams at the NHL level just like he’s done for Finland in the past, although he’ll probably end up on the second unit in both cases.

I won’t be surprised if Niemela is a first-round pick on draft day. His skating makes him a safe bet to be a NHL player. He’s a capable puck-mover rather than an outstanding one, but his skating consistently allows him to tilt the ice in his team’s favour. I wouldn’t pick him in the top 20-25 or so, but he’d be a solid second-round pick.

From Dobber Hockey:

Very reliable and smart two-way defenseman who will join the rush and get involved offensively. Capable of making above-average plays but isn’t the type of player who will make flashy plays constantly. Reliable defensively already at young age which bodes well for his NHL future.

From Corey Pronman:

Niemela stuck as a regular all season on one of the best teams in Liiga. He’s often played ahead of his age group the past few years. Niemela may not be a very flashy player, but he is a play-driver. He’s a very smart puck-mover who makes a lot of clever zone exits. He has good mobility and skill to evade pressure and make some plays in open ice, but his brain drives his value. Niemela has enough skill in his game to move the puck up well and make some plays off the offensive blue line, but I doubt whether he’s a true power play type in the NHL. Despite his size, I see someone who will be quality in his own end because of his great feet and brain, and will be good enough offensively to take a regular shift.

From McKeen’s Hockey:

Topi Niemela is a mobile and densively skilled right-shot defenseman with a lot of upside. After having a strong preseason, he started the 2019-20 season with Karpat’s Liiga team. Thanks to his strong performances, he was able to keep his spot on the defense and put together a good rookie campaign. Taking a regular spot on a very strong team like Karpat is not an easy task for a 17-year-old player, but Niemela managed to do just that.

Niemela moves well in all directions and his quickness is an asset. He is smooth with the puck and has strong passing skills. He is very active, both with and without the puck, and he likes to push the pace of the game. Moreover, he is engaged in the game from shift to shift and has a high compete level. He plays a decent physical game, however there is definitely room for additional strength. I would also like to see improvement in his decision making under pressure.

Niemela is a modern defenseman whose style of play fits well today’s NHL game, where more and more emphasis is being put on mobility and puck moving from the blueline. I think he has the potential to develop into a top-four NHL defenseman. If he improves his shot, I could also see him as an option for the first power play unit.

HIGHLIGHTS

POLL

Poll

How much do you love this pick?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    I love it!
    (250 votes)
  • 45%
    It’s excellent value!
    (280 votes)
  • 13%
    It soothes my broken heart after the San Jose buttheads stole Robins
    (83 votes)
613 votes total Vote Now