#4 Topi Niemela
Height/Weight: 5′ 11″ 169 lbs
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.