Prospect of Interest: The 411 on Markus Niemelainen

General managers from around the NHL comment on the importance of the 2016 NHL Draft.

There are lots of quality, all-around defencemen available at the 2016 NHL Draft, so Finland’s Markus Niemelainen won’t be among the first at his position to get picked. But if you like hulking defenders who specialize in the defensive end, Niemelainen is right up your alley.

After playing with HPK and Tappara over four years as a junior in Finland, Niemelainen came to North America this past season to join the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit. And while he won’t wow you with speed or offence, you will notice his size, reach and ability to shut down in his own end. He may be a work in progress, but if he reaches his full potential, he’ll be a tough customer for NHL forwards to deal with some day.

Here’s what you need to know about Markus Niemelainen.

Age on June 24: 18
From: Kuopio, Finland
Current Team: Saginaw Spirit, OHL
Position: Defence
Shoots: Left
Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 189 pounds
NHL Central Scouting Rank (European): 52nd

Jeff Marek’s Take: You notice the frame right away. A big man who can skate and make a good first pass, but had an up and down season.

A look at his offence…
Niemelainen isn’t going to blow you away with his offensive game.

As an OHL rookie this past season, he managed one goal and 26 assists in 65 games and he didn’t get any points in four playoff games. At the Word Under-18 Championship, Niemelainen got one assist in seven games.

Now, his 26 assists in the OHL was good enough for eighth among all rookies in the league, but the majority of those were second assists, which can be interpreted as less impactful points.

That certainly isn’t damning of Niemelainen’s game because these are all still points. And offence isn’t the main strength of his game. For that, we turn to defence.

All about defence…
Sometimes for players with the size Niemelainen has, skating is the big concern. Not so for this Finn. By all accounts, Niemelainen’s skating is a strength, which contributes positively to his defensive game. He has strength and a great reach, so his skating amplifies how effective he is with those tools.

Still, because of the lack of offence in his game, Niemelainen is part of the second tier of blueliners available in this draft. He certainly won’t challenge to be the first defender picked and should go after guys like Mikhail Sergachev, Jakob Chychrun and Olli Juolevi.

But whether he goes late in the first round or some time in the second round, whoever picks up Niemelainen will have a good project player on their hands.

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