Prospect Report: Topi Niemelä
Updated: Apr 19, 2020
Welcome to the fourth official prospect report from Future Scope Hockey. Today we’ll be taking an in-depth look at one of the most promising Fins available for the 2020 NHL entry draft, Topi Niemelä. Niemelä is a right shot defenseman who currently stands 6’0, and weighs in at 165 pounds. Being an Oulu, Finland native, Niemelä played his junior hockey with the local Oulu Karpat program. Karpat is *pretty good* at producing consistent NHLers, and high-end prospects. See Rasmus Kupari, Kristian Vesalainen, Aleksi Heponiemi, Tukka Tieksola, Jesse Puljujarvi, and oh yeah, Sebastian Aho. The most notable defender to come through Karpat’s program is probably Markus Nutivaara, a mainstay on Columbus’s blue line. But enough gushing about Karpat’s elite development program, and back to today’s subject, Topi Niemelä. Niemelä is making his Liiga debut with Karpat this season, and he’s already scored his first goal. His solid play early has led to a steady increase in his TOI, from around 13, to around 18 minutes a game.
Niemelä is quite an interesting player. He combines high-skill flashy moves with simple, old fashioned hockey. it’s not unnatural for Niemelä to dangle through an entire defense, and then simply chip the puck away. A lot of high skill guys will do whatever it takes to get the highlight reel goal, Niemelä would rather make the simple play. Though time to time he’ll pull off something like this:
Niemelä’s best physical aspect is his skating. His technique is near perfect, and he has some of the better edges among the 2020 defensive crop. He builds speed very quickly, and this often results in him being a free zone entry for his team. Here’s an example:
The part of his game that makes him a potential first/second round pick this year is his decision making. Niemelä reads plays and sees them develop faster than most players on the ice, giving him the ability to make quick twitch decisions that are usually the right ones. Watch here how Niemelä takes the puck as if he’s going to dive down beneath the hash marks, but quickly realizes he’s outnumbered. Instead of dumping the puck around the net, he uses his top-notch edges to reverse the play and safely send the puck back to his teammate on the opposite side:
These are the types of plays that separate Niemelä from your average defenseman.
Niemelä is extremely reliable defensively, and really doesn’t have any holes in his game. Once he puts some more size on, he’ll be a force to reckoned with.