Toronto Maple Leafs : What Is The Future For Topi Niemela?

(Photo by Andy Devlin/ Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Devlin/ Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Topi Niemela in the 3rd round, 64th overall, in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

Topi Niemela has been sent down to the Toronto Marlies, despite a strong preseason at the Toronto Maple Leafs training camp. 

This should come as no surprise, as Niemela has only played six games in the AHL and he is just 21 years old.

He remains one of the Leafs top prospects.

Toronto Maple Leafs : What Is The Future For Topi Niemela?

 Topi Niemela wasn’t expected to make the opening night roster for the Leafs, but the Finnish Defenseman looks much closer to making it to the show then expected, and that should give optimism to what his potential could be in the future.

Niemela had a decent, yet unbalanced 2022-23 season, with 8 Goals and 18 Points in 58 Games in Finland for Karpat, and then 2 Points in a 6 Game stint for the Marlie.

Offensively, this may look like he took a step back, but without the ability to watch most of his games and no advanced stats available, it’s hard to know for sure.

A promising 5 Points in 7 Playoff games may be a sign of optimism for Leafs fans that there is still worth in the waiting game for the 21-year-old.

Niemela may not be as hyped as fellow Leafs prospects  Matthew Knies or Fraser Minten, but he shows a lot of maturity and poise in his game, and is still on track to be an NHL player eventually.

I still believe Niemela is a top prospect for Toronto, and there’s still clearly a top-four upside. Already a strong offensive Defenseman, seeing Niemela look more controlled defensively is a big boost in ensuring that eventually we could see him in an NHL lineup.

Of course, you can point to some problems in Niemela’s game. His poor turnover early in the game against the Senators likely didn’t help showcase the best of his abilities, and that it happened just over a minute in may have ended up ingraining that memory into casual watchers.

Beyond that play, Niemela looked like a workhorse in that game, being all over the ice, battling for possession and creating chances in the Senators offensive zone. What also impresses about Niemela is how he adjusted his game early on, seeing as he was reacting and moving quite fast, trying to move the game in an instant, you notice Niemela start to process play a bit more in the 2nd and 3rd Periods.

It’s those small mental adjustments that will serve Niemela nicely, and potentially ensure he’s not stuck in the minors forever.

Is Niemela’s AHL Return a Blessing In Disguise?

To Niemela’s benefit, he now goes to a stacked Marlies roster that should be in Playoff contention for this upcoming season.

Perhaps getting to showcase himself in a full-time AHL role is more beneficial than throwing him to the wolves, even if Niemela’s preseason audition presents a player who made a strong case to be a full-time NHLer.

One big argument to remember is the constant hammering a few years back for former Top D prospects Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin to make the Leafs.

Eventually, both got their shot, Liljegren having finally established himself in the Leafs lineup, and Sandin having decent performances in Toronto before being shipped out in a deal that was a tough blow until you remember Easton Cowan was the eventual return (along with 9 games of Erik Gustafsson).

A top-four Defenseman is one of the hardest jobs to establish in the NHL. A defensive-minded 3rd line prospect can easily slot in for an injured bottom defender, but forcing in a defenseman with top-line potential isn’t always easy. Liljegren was nurtured as long as possible until not just the point where he could be an NHL defender, but a top-four defender in that.

And even after two years of destroying 3rd pairing minutes, Sheldon Keefe still wasn’t comfortable dressing LIljegren in the playoffs, which  just goes to show how hard it is to break into this league.

Next. Leafs Have a Much Better Than Expected Prospect Pool. dark

Niemela may have the talent to make the league already, but the Toronto Maple Leafs have already shown there is value in patience, and letting players develop not just to the point where they can make the NHL, but wanting them to debut when they know they can finally stick in the NHL,  and can be counted on to make an impact.