On Monday, Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland joined the Oilers Now podcast to discuss several topics and players around the Oilers. One of the names brought up was 21-year-old Finnish defense prospect Markus Niemeläinen. Holland mentioned that the contract discussions continue with the 6’6″ blueliner. The Oilers drafted Niemeläinen with the 63rd overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. That was four years ago, meaning that they would lose his rights if he remains unsigned now. Niemeläinen finished his third Liiga season with one goal and six assists in 55 games. He has one year remaining on his contract with Ässät.
OPINION: WHY THE OILERS WOULD BE WISE TO SIGN NIEMELÄINEN
Niemeläinen logged almost 20 minutes of ice-time per game this past season and was a stable, dependable presence on the Ässät blueline. At one point, it seemed that his development had stagnated, but the move to Ässät has done wonders to his overall game. He is tougher to play against in the sense that he has started to play more physically and use his size as an asset. He can lay clean, heavy checks without getting into penalty trouble. He moves well in all directions, can pivot well and uses a strong, long stride to reach good top speed. Niemeläinen won’t wow you with his puck handling or shooting ability. Admittedly, his ceiling isn’t very high due to a lack of offense, but given his recent development, I think he has the potential to eventually develop into a third-pairing NHL defenseman.