3 Toronto Maple Leafs Defense Prospects That Could Make The NHL Next Year

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens
Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages
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Topi Niemela, 22, RHD

Niemela, a right-handed defender, has been the Leafs top defensive prospect for a few years now and showed that he has adapted well to the North American game.

He produced 39 points in 68 games this past year, his rookie season in the AHL.

He has the skill and defensive know-how to be a solid bottom-four two-way D-man at the NHL level.

He may be a little undersized at only 6’0 and 179lbs but if there is any player capable of working around his limitations, it would be him.

His game is reminiscent in ways of Timothy Liljegren, a naturally offensive defender with average size and above average IQ.

If Niemela can follow a similar path to Liljegren, it would put him on track to take an NHL job this upcoming season.

Of course not all situations are the same but at 22 years old, the clock is ticking for him to break through. At the same age, Liljegren had at least 13 games under his belt and was called up a few times.

A place where he could break into the lineup is on the third pair, likely with Benoit.

There are some difficulties with this as Treliving seems to lean towards a larger and heavier blue-line.

So, he may be stuck unless the Leafs deal Connor Timmins, which replacing him with Niemela could save the team nearly $250K.