Markus Niemelainen is a Peter Chiarelli defenseman. He is 6.06, 205 and mobile, with much of his value on the defensive side of the puck. He was ranked as a high second-round pick by Craig Button (No. 36) and Bob McKenzie (No. 38), but he lasted until No. 63 and the Oilers. His 2016-17 season has not been what was hoped for, but there is a lot of potential in Saginaw, Michigan.
PREVIOUSLY NO. 18 ON THE WINTER LIST
- December 2006: D Mathieu Roy (66) (GM: Kevin Lowe)
- December 2007: C Chris VandeVelde (228) (GM: Kevin Lowe)
- December 2008: L Teemu Hartikainen (52) (GM: Kevin Lowe)
- December 2009: R Colin McDonald (145) (GM: Kevin Lowe)
- December 2010: D Brandon Davidson (65) (GM: Steve Tambellini)
- December 2011: L Phil Cornet (2) (GM: Kevin Lowe)
- December 2012: D Taylor Fedun (20) (via free agency, GM Steve Tambellini)
- December 2013: L Luke Gazdic (136) (via waivers, GM Steve Tambellini)
- December 2014: L Mitchell Moroz (0) (GM: Steve Tambellini)
- December 2015: D Dillon Simpson (3) (GM: Steve Tambellini)
Some interesting players this late in the top 20, including Chris VandeVelde, Colin McDonald and Brandon Davidson. All three took a very long time to cook, perhaps giving us some hope for later names. Taylor Fedun is back in the NHL, and Dillon Simpson made his debut this month. Brandon Davidson is my pick for class of the group, but he has to stay healthy.
WHAT THEY SAID ON DRAFT DAY
- Corey Pronman, ESPN: Niemelainen was a fine two-way player for Saginaw this season. He’s a fantastic skater for a defender of his size, moving effortlessly around the ice. His skill isn’t high-end, but he moves the puck at a solid-to-average level, showing good hands and coordination for a player his size, and decent offensive instincts.
- Craig Button, TSN: Steady, positional type defenseman. Makes plays with the puck, but doesn’t get outside his capabilities. Closes ice and doesn’t give much room inside dots and is weighty, but not punishing.
- Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst: We see the reasons behind the hype — a 6’6 defenseman who can shoot the puck is understandably interesting in terms of upside. But the Finnish import is far from a finished product, as we’ve seen games where he makes poor choices in all three zones. From his dots down, he’s a monster — few can pin and hold like Niemelainin, who uses his long stick like a scythe to whip the puck away from trouble. North of the faceoff circles is where he needs help, and when his game finally matures, he may develop into a top-pairing shutdown defender with some added offense to boot.
- Kirk Luedeke: He was the nails at the U18s, even if he didn’t put up big offensive numbers and I find him criminally underrated by Central and other lists that have him in the 50’s and 60’s. He played for a gong show of a club in Saginaw this year, but he’s so nimble and quick for such a big man, and you can see that there might be some real untapped offensive potential with him. Of course- if Boston likes him and thinks they can get him in the early 2nd, they might move that 1st for more assets. Source
- Kirk Luedeke: Huge at 6-5 and a superb skater. Size and wheels alone isn’t a reason to take this Finn (the only 2016 draft eligible on a squad of seven D- all late ’98 or ’99-born guys) but his potential late-blooming offensive potential could push it over the edge. Anyone who has him ranked well out of the first-round is missing the boat on him in my view. Source
He is just 22, 0-2-2 this season, reports have him playing an extremely defensive role for the Spirit. His even-strength boxcars from his draft season suggest a useful player, although power-play time is unlikely. It is important to remember that he does have some puck-moving ability, as reflected in his draft year boxcars (even strength). Note: David Musil’s draft year (who was 62gp, 5-12-17 evens) would fit right in, but Darnell Nurse (68gp, 10-17-27 evens) was well clear in his draft season.
PREVIOUSLY ON THE TOP 20
- Summer 2016: No. 14
- Winter 2016: No. 18
There is always an adjustment from summer to winter ranking in a draft year. I will say the hockey people who gift this blog with knowledge have had encouraging words about this player.
- Lowetide blog, Young Stars game v. Vancouver: LD Markus Niemelainen—1-0-1 +1, 4 shots. I think this was one of the best performances of the evening (I would rank him as the No. 2 star). Niemelainen is a big, rangy defender who can move the puck well and does seem to have an idea in the offensive zone. An extremely encouraging evening. Source
- Saginaw Spirit Head Coach Spencer Carbery: “He’s a big defenceman that’s a really smooth skater that can rush the puck, that can go back for dump retrievals and break pressure. He stands out in that respect, so I think he’s very, very noticeable for a defenceman that’s 6-foot-4 and can move so fluently out on the ice.” Source
- Brock Otten, OHL Prospects: Been playing much more of a defensive role this year. Has been paired with Hronek all year (who’s a bit of a rover), so Niemelainen has been forced to play a pretty conservative/passive game when it comes to the offensive side of things. And he’s not really seeing powerplay time. They have other options there. Still needs to be more aggressive in using his size in his own end.
- He is currently out with an upper body injury.
The Oilers chose three defensemen in the third round of the 2016 draft, each with a unique set of skills. Niemelainen is a defensive player, a big man with good wheels. I believe he has some ability to move the puck, but his draft year numbers have taken a dive in draft +1.
Edmonton has a bunch of lefty defensemen, but he may be superior to all but Caleb Jones on foot speed. That isn’t something we confirm, but the verbal leads us there. I have no answer for his offensive dropoff, it sounds like (via Otten) he is playing an extremely defensive style this year.
If I call this player ‘David Musil with speed’ he is sure to get buried by Oilers fans who read this blog, but that is a very reasonable assessment based on what we know at this time—and represents a worthwhile prospect. He needs to deliver offense though. ANY offense.
THE 2016 DRAFT
- Jesse Puljujarvi—No. 4 overall. Edmonton has another tremendous talent in Puljujarvi, who is an aware player all over the ice at 18—very rare. No. 1 prospect, Winter Top 20.
- Tyler Benson—No. 32 overall. Healthy and playing top line minutes in all disciplines. Potentially a big piece of the future, depending on how fast he develops. No. 2 prospect, Winter Top 20.
- Markus Niemelainen—No. 63 overall. Niemelainen is a big (6.05, 200 on draft day) defenseman with speed and raw skills. He has two-way ability. No. 18 prospect, Winter Top 20.
- Matthew Cairns—No. 84 overall. He is another defenseman who has much development ahead, but in this case there appears to be an offensive payoff clearly visible. Now 14gp, 0-4-4 with the Fargo Force. He is big and has a nice range of skills. Candidate for Top 20.
- Filip Berglund—No. 91 overall. Has enough finesse to be considered a puck mover, he has good vision and is an excellent passer. A very nice skill set. No. 11 prospect, Winter Top 20.
- Dylan Wells—No. 123 overall. Enjoying a strong bounce back season. Candidate for Top 20.
- Graham McPhee, No. 149 overall. Has shown flashes of offensive ability at college, has a range of skills. Candidate for Top 20.
- Aapeli Rasanen, No. 153 overall. A true center, he is an excellent passer who can finish, plays in all disciplines and is a fine face-off man. No. 15 prospect, Winter Top 20.
- Vincent Desharnais, No. 183 overall. College defender appears to be losing some playing time. Outside the Top 20.
The 2015 draft (three players, plus McDavid) and the 2016 draft (five players) represents almost half of the list at this time. Add in the three college signings and we are looking at most of the list ignoring the 2012, 2013 and 2014 drafts.
ROLLING TOP 20
- The Leftorium are now over the wall and invading the city, all other positions are getting buried now. Still only a solo LW, although Jujhar Khaira may end up playing that position long term.
- How many of these men will reach 200 NHL games? The 2010 list, now coming up on seven years old, boasted seven. Taylor Hall (401), Jordan Eberle (456), Magnus Paajarvi (279), Anton Lander (209), Devan Dubnyk (320), Jeff Petry (393), Chris VandeVelde (228). And there are a few in that 20 who might get there eventually. Helluva winter list.
- I don’t think there are seven names here who will play 200 NHL games. Do you?
- If Peter Chiarelli is going to draft for need, where do you start? I would count center and LHD as flush, but after that? I think all other positions could use a hand.
- Of the seven forwards listed here, a good chance four of them graduate by the time I post the summer list in 2017.
- If a team comes calling, and Edmonton offers any player on this list outside the top 4, who would you take? I would take Caleb Jones. You?