It’s a (short) run of big defenceman with Logan Stanley being profiled yesterday as the 45th ranked prospect for the upcoming draft, and now coming in at 44th is a hulking Finnish defenceman, Markus Niemelainen. Measuring in at 6’6″ and 205 lbs, Niemelainen is one of the biggest defenceman available in this draft, so teams looking to add size to their blue line prospect ranks may have to seriously consider the Kuopio native.
- Age: 17, 1998-06-08
- Birthplace: Kuopio, Finland
- Frame: 6’6″, 205 lbs.
- Position: D
- Handedness: L
- Draft Year Team: Saginaw Spirit
- Accomplishments/Awards: 2014/15 U18 Silver Medal, 2015/16 U18 Gold Medal, 2015/16 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game
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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.
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
There have been varying scouting reports on Niemelainen, with some scouts having him pegged as a late first or early second round pick while others have him falling into the early third round. Through my personal viewings of Niemelainen he displayed exactly what to the scouting reports above suggest. From below his team’s circles to the net, he is a force. Blocking out opposing players and landing clean, punishing hits.
With some development time and some more coaching the hulking Finnish defenceman will look to add more offence to his game. He can, at times, seem timid to carry the puck out of the zone, generally taking the easier approach of off the boards and out. Given that he skates well for his size, there is a belief that if he gets the confidence to carry the puck out, he will see some statistical results as he will be able to get the puck to his forwards while they are transitioning in speed. He displayed that a couple of times during the CHL Top Prospects game, but obviously given the calibre of his competition, he made sure that he wasn’t caught out of position.
As Curtis Joe from Elite Prospects mentions above, when Niemelainen has carried the puck in the past, it has worked well for him. He just needs to do it more consistently.
Although I am mentioning his offensive game, it’s merely in hopes that he becomes a complete player. Generally speaking, the defensive defenceman in the NHL saw offensive production during their junior careers. He is already a very good defensive defenceman in the OHL, who has the size, skating ability and hockey IQ to make it at the next level. When looking at his pGPS, 50% of his matches went onto becoming NHL regulars. Given his size, there were limited matches, but such a high success rate is very promising.