The Edmonton Oilers have a plethora of up-and-coming defensive prospects, and Markus Niemelainen is one player who shines brightly.
A product of Kuopio, Finland, Niemelainen is a big, reliable defenceman with an interesting edge to his game. The Oilers drafted him in the third round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, and he has done a lot to further develop his game.
In his pre-draft year with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, Niemelainen finished with a goal and 27 points through 65 games but was a minus-23. This past season, he only recorded three goals and nine points through 59 games, he finished as a minus-5 and looked much more stable on the backend. Still, he appeared to struggle and decided he would not return for a third year with the Spirit ahead of the 2017 CHL draft.
The 6-foot-6, 205-pound defender possesses an excellent frame and is a big, physical player. He is a smooth skater who can play well with and without the puck. Not only that, but he plays a solid all-around game at both ends of the rink and is reliable in his own zone. Along with all of that, Niemelainen is able to get the puck up the ice and makes quick and smart decisions on the ice.
The Oilers need a reliable, big player to have on the backend, as well as complete, all-around blueliner. Niemelainen fits this description well, but the left-hand shot still has growing to do.
First off, Niemelainen needs to continue to balance a two-way game, but should also improve and sharpen his offensive edge. He is great at getting pucks up ice and could stand to jump up in the rush and even shoot the puck every now and then. He also needs to take better care of the puck and win more on-ice battles, because that is what will help him thrive as he moves up the ranks.
The 19-year-old is set to play in Finland with the Finnish Elite League’s HPK Hameenlinna this season and has yet to sign an entry-level deal with Edmonton. However, he will likely get more experience and continue to grow in the right direction and earn a deal sooner rather than later. Still, Edmonton would have probably liked to have seen him adjust to North American hockey.