2015-16 Team: Saginaw Spirit (#56)
Date of birth: June 8th, 1998
Place of birth: Kuopio, Finland
Ht: 6’5″ Wt: 189 lbs
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2016 1st year eligible
THW The Next Ones Ranking (February): 48
- Craig Button (TSN): 33
- HockeyProspect.com: Unranked
Markus Niemelainen is currently in his first season in North American hockey after coming over from Finland to play with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit. While he has had some moments of adjustment to the smaller North American ice surface, the potential that made him a first round pick in the import draft has shone through despite playing with a poor team in Saginaw. Big, mobile, shutdown defenders are always on the NHL radar, but with the league’s newfound focus on skill, Niemelainen could slip out of the first round.
The first thing you notice about Niemelainen is his gargantuan size. At 6’5″, Niemelainen has the size to both dominate opponents physically and use his long reach to break up passes in his own zone. While his size could be a detriment to his skating speed, he moves well and his long reach makes him very effective as an all-situations shutdown defenseman. Niemelainen still just weighs in at 189 pounds despite his tall frame, but doesn’t get outmuscled easily and is effective behind his own goal line and clearing the crease area.
Niemelainen’s calling card is his defensive game, but his developing offensive skills go largely unnoticed playing for a rebuilding squad in Saginaw. While he still doesn’t post eye-popping numbers, Niemelainen is very low-risk in his style of play and can be counted on in any situation. He is very good at making the first pass out of his own zone, and can stretch the ice with a long pass. In the offensive zone, he has a booming shot that is a weapon on the power play as well as at even strength. He isn’t one to carry the puck and quarterback the play, but he is no slouch offensively and is quite good at handling the puck.
Niemelainen isn’t the flashiest prospect, but his size and potential for increased strength could make him a physical monster by the time he reaches the NHL. His above-average mobility, shutdown style of play, and improving offensive game are definitely something all 30 teams would take a chance on. If he can flash more offensive potential before June rolls around, Niemelainen could hear his name called on Day 1 of the draft.
NHL Draft Projection:
Niemelainen’s size and physicality will be tempting for teams in the late first and early second, but his lack of high-end offense likely pushes him out of the first round and into the middle of the second, similar to 2015 draftee Brandon Carlo last year. A strong offensive stretch run and playoffs could leapfrog him into the top 30 picks, however.
Rising defensive import who is very tall and rangy. He displays an active long stick, and moreover, excellent four direction skating ability. High end hockey sense and a calm poise aid his carries, even under heavy pressure. He makes that long stretch pass very well. Has the size and feet to knock attackers off the puck… Still developing, with great tools and toolbox, so it may take some time, but he will catch the attention of an NHL team fairly early.
Bill Placzek, Draftsite.com
For a bigger kid, I loved his agility and ability to quickly get to the line to keep the puck in as well as pinch in from the point. He is smart in the offensive zone, knowing how to move effectively with the puck to open up space for himself. He has an absolute bomb from the point and can really rip the puck on net.
Colin Mayberry, Future Considerations
- Defensive awareness
- Physical play
- Long reach
- Strong outlet passing
- Minute muncher
- Great point shot
Under Construction (Improvements to Make):
- Add weight to frame
- Skating speed
- Offensive awareness
- Passing in offensive zone
Niemelainen could be a strong shutdown defender in the NHL, but would be a two-way force if he could improve the offensive side of his game. Likely a defensively-inclined second pairing guy in the NHL, with a little bit of offensive potential.
NHL Player(s) Comparison – Karl Alzner
Risk = 1.5/5 Reward = 3.5/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential:
Offensive = 4/10 Defensive = 8/10
- 2014-2015 Jr. A SM-Liiga Silver Medal
- 2014-2015 U18 WJC Silver Medal
- 2015-2016 CHL Top Prospects Game
Hockeyprospect.com scouting report (starts at 7:30)
Niemelainen in the 2016 CHL Top Prospects Game (#56 in red)
Niemelainen’s first career OHL goal:
Shots From the Slot (Interesting Notes):
Niemelainen was drafted three times in 2015, going 18th overall in the CHL Import Draft, 63rd overall in the KHL Draft, and 199th in the USHL Draft.
THW’s The Next Ones prospect profile template design architect: Chris Ralph
Joseph Aleong is an At-Large writer for THW from Toronto, Ontario. He is a graduate of Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Follow him on Twitter @josephaleong11