Toronto Maple Leafs Top 10 Prospects for the 2023-24 NHL Season

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 27: Matthew Knies #23 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game Five of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on April 27, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 4-2.(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 27: Matthew Knies #23 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game Five of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on April 27, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 4-2.(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /
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Sep 30, 2023; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Topi Niemela (47)  Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2023; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Topi Niemela (47)  Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports /

#4 Topi Niemela

Age: 21

Height/Weight: 5′ 11″ 169 lbs

Position: Defense

Shoots: Right

Draft: 3rd Round, 64th Overall 2020

The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to start the year with Mark Giordano and Timothy Liljegren on their third pairing, but Liljegren will be in the top-four before too long, while Gio will be spending most nights in the press-box.

It is very possible that by the time the playoffs role around, the Leafs third pairing consists of Mikko Kokkonen and Topi Niemela.

Both could probably play in the NHL right now, and Kokkonen probably will.

But Niemela has the higher potential.  Though he lacks the offensive skill to truly become an elite NHL player, he could easily become a top-pairing star.

At worst, he should be a very good second-pairing player on a good team.

Some people have called him the Leafs top prospect, but I think that is ridiculous.  He just doesn’t have the upside of anyone ahead of him on this list, and I think that’s the most important thing to evaluate prospects on.

Niemela is a smart, two-way defender who is excellent at puck moving, but needs to get stronger to really succeed in the NHL.   He’s the Leafs highest potential defensive prospect, but he’s nowhere near other top NHL prospects like Simon Nemac or Luke Hughes.

Still, a good #2 or a solid #3 is nothing to sneer at.  Niemela should be a solid, if unspectacular, pro.