Niemela started the game on the third pair with Eemil Viro, but was put on the first power play unit and was given spot shifts higher up the lineup with fellow Leaf Mikko Kokkonen and Ville Heinola. By the end of the game when Finland was trying to tie a 3-2 game, he was moved up permanently to the top pair to get maximum offense. Finland is basically using him as a Travis Dermott.
In terms of highlights, Niemela set up the first goal of the game on the power play.
Niemela picks up an assist on his first shift: pic.twitter.com/QCn6QNgEfi— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) December 23, 2020
He then showed off some great feet on his second 5v5 shift of the game. We didn’t see a play quite like this again from Niemela, but he was always pushing in transition. I think on the shift after this he jumped up into the rush and was near the front of the net for a chance that didn’t materialize.
Fairly simple breakout pass here, but Niemela can fly pic.twitter.com/qJ1u7cqDNT— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) December 23, 2020
Then in the second, Niemela feathered through his second shot on the power play and beat Spencer Knight for his second point of the game.
topi niemela scores on the powerplay! pic.twitter.com/wd9zP2Vwwo— dylan (@dylanfremlin) December 23, 2020
Kokkonen looked sluggish in the first half of the game. He was a little slow and wasn’t getting involved with the puck at all. In the second half, he woke up a bit and was elevated his game as Finland found their feet after a first period nearly entirely shorthanded.
One of his two highlights of the night came as Finland was trying to kill a 5-on-3 power play for the USA (who arguably have the best power play the tournament has seen in years). Kokkonen was tasked with stopping Trevor Zegras’ shots that the USA set up for.
He disrupted two chances with some exceptional positioning and reflexes, on the third, he blocked the shot and got Finland through without a goal against. I was really impressed with this, this is a pro game right here. Whether Kokkonen has the potential to do more than this is still a question, but having a skill like zone defending tucked away is good to see.
Mikko Kokkonen with a huge block#LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/twYR0oOS6j— Rink Rat Report (@RinkRatReport) December 23, 2020
Like I said earlier, Kokkonen did show his puck moving abilities with a good outlet pass at the end of the second. More of this would be nice.
Kokkonen with a nice stretch pass here. pic.twitter.com/gyMFlhBx5f— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) December 23, 2020
Some minor things I noticed from Kokkonen: he was consistent in his ability to disrupt the puck carrier in the defensive zone, engage him, and give his team the chance to gain the puck and move it out of the zone. Really mature stuff from him that I think his coach loves. He did try and throw the puck out of the zone a few times — Nikita Zaitsev style — so his transition game leaves a lot to be desired.
Hirvonen was quiet in this game, but after starting out on the second line left wing, he moved up to the first line with Finland’s best players Anton Lundell and Brad Lambert. He obviously plays a complimentary style on a line with stars on it and it seems the coach really likes him when he does that. Zach Hyman 2.0 is at it again.
Looks like 🇫🇮 has switched up the top 6, with Lundell (FLA) taking most of the third period shifts with Lambert (2022) and Hirvonen (TOR), while Parssinen (NSH) centres Jarventie (OTT) and Simontaival (LAK) #WorldJuniors— Jacob Barker (@JacobMbarker12) December 23, 2020
Other than Niemela who produced two goals on the power play for Finland, none of our guys were really primary actors in this game. Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, Aatu Raty, Ville Heinola, Anton Lundell, those were the stars of the game.
Projected Team 🇫🇮 line-up for tonight's game 🆚🇺🇸— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 22, 2020
Järventie – Lundell – Simontaival
Hirvonen – Pärssinen – Lambert
Pyyhtiä – Nikkanen – Räty
Puhakka – Helenius – Mäntykivi
Heinola – Hatakka
Kokkonen – Puutio
Viro – Niemelä
Rajaniemi – Rafkin
Mikael Nahabedian has been tracking transitions for all the WJC games, so not only should you check out how our three Leafs prospects fared, but also give him a follow.
Here are the individual Zone Exit & Zone Entry stats for Team Finland from the game vs Team USA in preparation for the #WorldJuniors. pic.twitter.com/Df9WL17PfN— Mikael Nahabedian (@hunterofstats) December 23, 2020
Here is what Kevin had to say about Niemela, Kokkonen, and Hirvonen.
Kokkonen still looks like a PK specialist. I don't think he brings a ton to the table offensively, so his shutdown game will have to carry him.— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) December 23, 2020
I wasn't overly impressed with Hirvonen. I like his grit + skill, but he's a step behind. He'll shine more against the weaker teams.
And here are Katya’s thoughts after the game.
Hirvonen looked neither outstanding nor ever like a liability.— Pension Plan Puppets (@PPPLeafs) December 23, 2020
Finland had trouble as a team keeping up when USA kicked it up a notch.
Topi Niemelä named Finland's best player.
Various Hockey Branches
Winter T25U25 #6: Rodion Amirov - Fulemin
Tampa Bay Lightning re-sign defensemen Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta - Raw Charge
Leafs vs. Habs on January 13th. Full season announced today.
More NHL schedule rumblings: A Toronto/Montreal meeting as part of the Jan. 13 opening night.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 22, 2020
The full NHL schedule released Wednesday will have the 7 Canadian teams as if they can play in their home arenas, even though it's possible that won't be the case. The NHL has adjustment schedules ready to go if that changes.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) December 22, 2020
Lots of mini series are going to be expected in order to limit travel, taking a page out of the AHL’s book.
More NHL schedule intel: With better symmetry in the U.S.-based divisions -- eight teams, eight games apiece -- some there received a draft featuring a whole season played in two-game blocks.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 22, 2020
That includes the odd home-and-home ... so four straight games against the same team.
The offside rule is finally changed, a players skate doesn’t need to be on the ice to be onside, there just needs to be a part on the neutral zone side of the ice while the puck fully leaves the blue line.
Good change to offside rule pic.twitter.com/rMAUi3Ond3— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) December 22, 2020
UPDATE TO @NHL RULE 83.1 (OFF-SIDE): Beginning in the 2020-21 regular season, a player's skate will not have to be in contact with the blue line in order to be on-side.— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 22, 2020
Updated language: https://t.co/gp5npRIw9k pic.twitter.com/pT6YmA6qP5
Home broadcasts only, it seems.
While there will be an allowance for each team's PR and social media staff, it doesn't sound like broadcasters will be permitted to travel on NHL charters to start this season.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 22, 2020
The identities of players who test positive for COVID-19 will be shared publicly this time, rather than the whole hush hush of the summer.
During the 2020-21 NHL season, the identity of any player who has a confirmed positive COVID-19 test will be announced publicly.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 22, 2020
That does not apply during training camp, when only total numbers league-wide will be disclosed.
The Washington Capitals have signed Conor Sheary to a sweet contract.
🚨SIGNING UPDATE🚨: Capitals sign F Conor Sheary to a one-year, $735,000 contract...— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) December 22, 2020
Follow every deal in our Signing Tracker - https://t.co/9G8sMTmZZA#TSNHockey pic.twitter.com/Cj6uMTFruJ