Topi Niemelä is one of the many rising young players in Kärpät’s system. The 18-year-old defenseman from Oulu, Finland has represented Finnish youth national teams in many international tournaments, including the U17 World Hockey Challenge and U18 World Championship in the 2018-2019 season. He already played for the U20 national team in 2019-20 at the age of 17.
Niemelä spent the entire 2019-20 season with Kärpät’s men’s team, with the exception of two games in the U20 league. He recorded one goal and six assists in 43 games while logging 12:50 of ice-time per game. It is not an easy task for young Kärpät players to take a full-time role on the Liiga team, yet Niemelä managed to do so. He is happy with the way his season went.
“I think my season went well. I expected before the beginning of the season that I could get to play some games in a men’s league, but I did not expect to start and play the entire season there. I got to battle and play on the extremity all the time and that developed me the most. I have many good memories from the season as well.”
When watching Niemelä play, his strong skating and puck moving abilities are attributes that often stand out to me. He descibes himself as “a two-way defenseman with powerful skating. I play fearlessly and like to make plays with the puck.”
As for the areas that require work, he says that he needs to improve his defensive game and shot the most.
Niemelä was part of the Kärpät U20 team that won the Finnish championship in the 2018-2019 season. That team featured four players who have been drafted in the NHL so far: forwards Tuukka Tieksola, Aku Räty, Eetu Päkkilä and goalie Justus Annunen. His favourite memories are the U20 championship and Liiga debut. Niemelä scored in the debut against HPK in September 2019:
Niemelä’s family has had the biggest impact on his career.
“My family has been the biggest support in my career because they have always supported me in what I do. They have always been giving 100% support both at the difficult and at the good times.”
When I asked what kind of goals he has set for the future, Niemelä said the following:
“To be able to develop into a top player in the Liiga. A dream would be to play in the NHL some day.”
One thing is certain: Niemelä is on the right path to reaching his goals.
Big thanks to Topi for the interview and best of luck going forward!
Cover photo: Liiga.fi