Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the daily column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Each day I will bring you a new player profile or topical article in the lead-up to the 2015 NHL Draft. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Draft”! For a Complete Listing of all our 2016 Draft Articles Click here.
The 18th overall pick of last summer’s CHL Import Draft, Markus Niemelainen is coming off of a solid rookie season with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit. He put up just one goal, but added 26 assists for 27 points in in 65 games this year. It was a down year overall for the Spirit, who lost plenty of key pieces and have begun a rebuilding phase. Niemelainen was a bright spot on a very young blue line. He played for Team Cherry in the CHL Top Prospects game. Niemelainen also has plenty of international experience, playing for Finland in the 2015 World Under 17 Hockey Challenge, winning silver at the 2015 IIHF Under 18 World Championships, and taking home a gold at the 2016 Under-18s. Niemlainen came up through HPK’s
Markus Niemelainen Scouting Report: 2016 NHL Draft #57
Defense — shoots Left
Born Jun 8 1998 — Kuopio, Finland
Height 6’06” — Weight 205 lbs [198 cm / 93 kg]
At 6-foot 6-inches tall, Markus Niemelainen has tremendous size. He uses it effectively in the defensive zone. While he isn’t a huge hitter, he does play physical in battling for loose pucks and pinning his man to the boards; clearing the front of the net, and blocking shots. Niemelainen is very skinny though, and really needs to add muscle onto his frame in order that he can be more effective at the physical aspect of the game. He also uses a long and active stick to cut down passing lanes and poke check the puck away from opponents. Niemelainen shows very good positioning and effective gap control in his own end. He is strong both five on five and on the penalty kill. The ability to start the rush, and make a good first pass is also something that helps him defensively as he gets the puck moving and out of the zone quickly.
Niemelainen is a very good skater for his size. There aren’t a lot of 6-foot-6-inch players who have the speed that he does in both directions. Don’t get me wrong, when compared to most players in this draft, he would be classified as “slightly above average” in terms of speed, but given his height that is impressive. He also has excellent agility and edgework. His quick feet allow Niemelainen to keep attackers in front of him, to maintain gap control, and to defend against the rush. In terms of balance and power, this is another area where an off-season of bulking up could really help Nimelainen take his game to the next level. Improvements in core strength will be necessary before he moves on to the pro game.
Markus Niemelainen is mainly a defensive defender, but there are hints that a better offensive game may be lurking under the surface. He does have a hard slap shot, though he does not use it enough, and he needs to work on getting it on net and through traffic. He also has a heavy wrist shot, but could use some work on his release. As mentioned above he does make a good breakout pass and starts the transition that way. As the season went along and he became more confident, Niemelainen showed better puck skills, including poise when handling the puck at the blue line. He has good vision, so taking an extra second for the play to open up and make a cross seam pass has added another aspect to his offensive game. While it is is unlikely he will ever be considered an offensive defenceman, he may be able to chip in from time to time.
Niemelainen is a project, but given his size and skating ability it could be one that pays off for an NHL team. Patience and good development will be key in taking a very raw player and allowing him to grow into a top four defenceman. In terms of a player comparison, he is similar stylistically to a Marc Methot, but this is just a stylistic comparison and not one based on skill or ability.
The following is a compilation of Markus Niemelainen highlights, assembled from youtube.
Check back tomorrow for the #58 prospect on our NHL Draft Board.