Defenseman Topi Niemela
After the graduations of both Nick Robertson and Matthew Knies to the NHL, Leafs’ top defensive prospect Topi Niemela became the unanimous top prospect of the organization across many sources. After all, the former Leafs third round pick from the 2020 NHL Entry Draft have taken huge strides in terms of his growth and development in both his offensive and defensive game over the past couple of seasons.
After spending the majority of his time with Karpat in the Finnish League, Niemela finally made his move over to North America this season to begin his first full season with the Marlies. So far, he has not disappointed, as he has tallied three goals and 10 assists for 13 points so far in 19 games played.
He leads all Marlies’ defenseman in those respective categories, while ranking within the top 20 in the league for both assists and points for defenseman.
Although he has mainly seen his playing time at even strength and on the power play, he will likely get his chance eventually to hone his skills with more time on the penalty kill to fully develop into an all-situations defenseman for the future.
With the Leafs defensive depth significantly depleted in recent times with injuries to Mark Giordano and Timothy Liljegren, along with the season-ending injury to John Klingberg, Niemela could suddenly find himself in the mix to get a potential call-up in the not-so-distant future.
Once he does get his chance, hopefully he can help make everyone forget about the loss of Rasmus Sandin from last season at the trade deadline by providing the much-needed youthful boost to the Leafs everyday defensive lineup.