One of the players Edmonton chose at the 2016 draft (Markus Niemelainen) is turning into a fascinating study for this blog. Not long after the draft, I mentioned an interesting and curious comparison to first-round selection Logan Stanley:
- Logan Stanley: 6.07, 220. 64gp, 5-12-17 107pims
- Markus Niemelainen: 6.05, 189. 65gp, 1-26-27 28pims
- Logan Stanley: Even-strength primary points per game: .094
- Markus Niemelainen: Even-strength primary points per game: .108
- Logan Stanley: Estimated even-strength points per 60: 0.655
- Markus Niemelainen: Estimated even-strength points per 60: 1.133
- 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. Source
Corey Pronman mentioned in his annual ranking (Niemelainen was No. 68) that the Finn was on loan this season—so Edmonton may choose to develop him in a pro league. Something to think about, especially in light of his handling when playing for the Saginaw Spirit this season.
A WRINKLE IN THE STORY
After the draft, I started finding some evidence that the big Finn didn’t get a lot of playing time for much of the season. Saginaw had a tough year and there were curious decisions in regard to deployment. I don’t normally pay too close attention to this kind of thing—if you know hockey people there is always something to bitch about—but in this case someone I trust mentioned it.
- 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
Luedeke is a tremendous resource, going back years and years (he wrote Bruins Draft Watch for a few years, that remains an insanely useful resource for the drafts he covered). I cannot publish the other reports in regard to playing time (they are published but not online) but the subject came up several times with another of the publications I trust.
LUEDEKE ABOUT NIEMELAINEN
- 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
On draft day, the scouting reports indicated a raw, very talented big man with plus speed and shutdown ability. As the summer wears along, while reading some intelligent verbal from men like Luedeke and The Black Book, a more nuanced view of this player is emerging. Whenever I see a new arrow for a prospect, I always wheel back to scouting reports from the past. The one report I read that talked about him as a significant offensive player? Elite Prospects.
- Curtis Joe: A complete all-around defenceman that makes the game look easy. Natural size and strength compliment his smooth stride. Very mobile skater who moves up and down the ice quickly, with acute recognition of puck and body position. His maturity and poise is actualized in his high-percentage decision-making, with and without the puck, as well as his proactive stick and body play. Very stable defensively and always takes his lane, but is quick to rush the puck up the ice as he recognizes and accounts for how much time his team is spending in their own end. All-in-all, a quick-thinking defenceman that, honestly lacking nothing, has the potential to develop into a reliable two-way defenceman. Source