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The Next Great Finnish Defenseman, Leafs Topi Niemelä Making a Case

Leafs fans should be excited about the 2020 3rd round selection, Topi Niemelä!

The country of Finland has historically produced some amazing NHL forwards including Teemu Selänne, Jari Kurri, the Koivu brothers – Saku and Mikko – Esa Tikkanen, etc. Of course, the current crop of Finnish forwards in the NHL are just as exciting as the likes of Sebastian Aho, Patrik Laine, and Teuvo Teräväinen are all carving out their own legacy. On the back end however, the historical NHL ‘greats’ list is a bit shorter but would include former NHL players Teppo Numminen and Kimmo Timonen.

Related: Legendary Scribe Outlines Flaws With the World Junior Format

That list will likely expand with players like Miro Heiskanen, along with the Buffalo Rasmus’s – Ristolainen and Dahlin. Another Finnish defender that is projecting into that caliber of player is currently competing at the World Junior Championship in Edmonton – Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Topi Niemelä.

The Next Big Finn?

The way Niemelä has performed so far at the event makes him look like a bargain for the Leafs. After selecting him with the 64th overall pick in the 3rd round, the Oulu native has collected a goal and three helpers thus far – good for fourth in defenseman scoring. It also worth noting that two of three defenders ahead of him in scoring – USA captain Cam York, and undrafted German Simon Gnyp – have played three games. Niemelä along with Arizona Coyote 11th overall (2019) selection, Victor Söderström, have only played two so far.

Niemelä is no stranger to international competition having competed in the 2019 Hlinka/Gretzky Cup and U17 tournament in 2018. He currently plays for his hometown Kärpät of the Finnish top league where he has collected three assists in nine games. The right-handed prospect also collected one goal and six assists in 43 games last season with Kärpät – always impressive for a 17-year-old competing against men.

At 5-foot-11 and nearly 160 pounds he still has some physical maturing to do, but when that happens, he could end up being a 3rd round steal for the Leafs! Despite a slighter stature, he is a new-age defenseman that has the entire package: great mobility, agility, skill, and great feel for the game at both ends of the ice.

Leaf fans will have another opportunity to see Niemelä today versus the Slovaks and tomorrow when the two top teams from Group A – Canada v Finland – clash at 4pm (MST). That should prove to be a great New Year’s Eve treat!

Topi Niemela Maple Leafs Prosepct

NEXT: Quinton Byfield Has ‘Don’t Ignore Me’ Performance Game At World Juniors

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