For Topi Niemela, he just so happened to be also drafted from the same class as Hirvonen, as he went in the third round to the Leafs in 2020.
However, unlike Hirvonen, his play has grown and advanced so much in the past couple of years that he has risen to become the Leafs top defensive prospect in the organization as of the current season.
He officially broke out during the 2021-22 season with Karpat in the Finnish League when he led all defensemen on the team with 10 goals and 22 assists for 32 points.
Although statistically it may have appeared he took a step backwards in 2022-23 when he only managed to put up 18 points in 58 games, he actually focussed on developing his defensive play so that he could be the complete package once his game fully matured.
His rapid development translated into his strong play when he joined the Marlies near the end of the 2022-23 regular season for their playoff run.
Niemela was strong in the playoffs, with two goals and three assists in seven games, but unfortunately the Marlies would end up falling to the Rochester Americans in the second round.
As Niemela looks to become the next Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren to graduate from the Marlies to join the big club, his route to the NHL may unfortunately be blocked by a couple other promising players ahead of him.
With the impressive play of Conor Timmins during the preseason prior to his injury, along with the standout performance so far by Mikko Kokkonen, Niemela may need to wait for his opportunity further down the road.
If the opportunity doesn’t end up being there, he could potentially be a key part in any big Leafs trade this season, as his value has certainly risen to become almost equivalent to a first round pick nowadays.