Weight: 200 pounds
Date of birth: June 8, 1998. Kuopio, Finland
OHL Draft: Round 1, 18th overall, 2015 CHL Import Draft
KHL Draft: Round 3, 63rd overall, 2015 KHL Draft, Dynamo Riga
Niemelainen enters his draft year as one of the most internationally experienced players available for the NHL Draft. He’s played for Finland at the U-16, U-17 and U-18 as well as the WHC U-17, WJC U-18 and the Ivan Hlinka Memorial.
Prior to being selected in the CHL Import Draft, Niemelainen was selected in the KHL Draft. That was followed by being selected by the Fargo Force in the USHL Entry Draft (13th round, 199th overall).
There are a few 6’6” defensemen available from the OHL in the draft class that include Niemelainen’s teammate Keaton Middleton and the Windsor Spitfires Logan Stanley. But unlike his draft cousins, he will need to add plenty of bulk to that imposing frame.
Niemelainen moves surprisingly well for a player of his size. Despite that skating ability, he’s a pass first defender when trying to clear the zone – a pass he completes extremely well. He also shy’s away from using that skating ability to join in the rush offensively. He’s not a risk taker and plays it extremely safe in that regard. The tools are there and I think the more he becomes accustomed to the North American game, the more they will come to the forefront.
In the offensive zone Niemelainen is not averse to taking chances. However, he’ll need to better choose when to pinch and when to back off. He sometimes shows hesitation or indecisions on when to pinch and can leave himself out of position. He has a deceptively quick release on his shot and he shoots with a purpose – whether he’s shooting to create a rebound or a shot that can easily be tipped in by a teammate. He does possess some intriguing offensive abilities and the vision to be creative.
Defensively, Niemelainen is excellent in his positioning. He knows where to be on the ice and is very adept at blocking lanes. He has a very active stick and his reach is one of his biggest assets. Despite his imposing size, he’s not as physical as he can be – he shows hesitation when the hit is there. Perhaps it’s because he worries about leaving himself out of position or perhaps it will come with the adjustment to the smaller rink and the North American game.
Niemelainen appeared on NHL Central Scouting’s list of players to watch on their preliminary list as a B prospect and remained there on the updated November list. A B prospect is a second or third round prospect.
Niemelainen could very well turn out to be a low risk high reward pick.