Round 3, 63rd overall – Markus Niemelainen
Left D Markus Niemelainen took a bit of an unconventional development path. He started out in the OHL with the Saginaw Spirit for 2 seasons, putting up 1-26-27 in 65 games which were good but with a -23 to go with it that makes it somewhat bad. He then followed that up with a hard dip in offense – 3-6-9 in 59 games but improved his +/- to -5.
Niemelainen then took off to his native Finland to play in the SM-Liiga, where he’s been ever since. Offensively, he appears to have picked up where he left off in his last season in junior. His best boxcars coming this past season when he put up 1-6-7 in 55 GP while piling up 42 PIMs, and defensively while he did well in 2018-19 with a +5, he slipped to -6 this season.
At this point, he seems destined to wind up as a stay at home defenceman, but the club obviously sees something in him as this past April they signed him to a 2 year, 2-way ELC that starts next season. His scouting report is here.
Going forward: Is it bad to have a career path that mirrors Adam Larsson? That’s the type Niemelainen seems destined for now, which is not bad. Or he could be a project puck mover, as another way to look at him. It’s hard to say exactly what he is as he’s had less than 150 games in the European pros. It appears the plan right now is to let him start the year in Finland and bring him over for Condors training camp whenever the AHL starts up again, likely in December. Whatever happens, he’s passed the next hurdle of getting a contract, so that’s a good thing for him.
Trending: Up, so far
Round 3, 84th overall – Matthew Cairns
Cairns is a left defenceman that is having a rather pedestrian career so far. He was drafted after a Junior A season in which he scored 9-24-33 in 46 games with 42 PIMs to go along with it (+/- is not listed).
He then followed that up with 18 games in the BCHL going 2-4-16 with 26 PIMs – pretty solid – and another 2 assists in 11 playoff games for the Power River Kings. He then went the US College Route, playing for Cornell University ever since. He’s been very underwhelming in his college career, his best season being last season when he went 2-2-4 with 20 PIMS in 32 games and a -2.
He followed that up this season by posting a single assist in 19 games with 4 PIMs. The only redeeming part of his season this past year is his +/- went up to +4. Unlike the other 2 players drafted in this round, Cairns is without an ELC as he enters his last year of US College hockey. Unless he sets the US College system on fire next season and breaks out, he won’t have a pro career to speak of, at least in the NHL. Europe maybe, but not the NHL.
It’s not the end of the world to have a miss in the 3rd round, but still disappointing nonetheless. This is the closest thing I could find to a scouting report on him, and it’s old and out of date.
Going forward: The Oilers hold his rights for 1 more year, until Aug. 15, 2021. Next year is likely his last chance to break out and get noticed by the brass. Otherwise, he won’t take the next step and earn a contract.