Markus Niemelainen

Aaron Vickers

An all-situations defender, Niemelainen contributes on the power play and does some good work on the penalty kill, though he can get caught running around a bit and scrambling in his own zone. He sees the ice well, getting pucks through lanes and on teammates’ sticks for chances. On the breakout, he sets up in the zone and can deliver some long-range, home-run passes that are all crisp and tape-to-tape. He leads his player perfectly and catches him in stride. Niemelainen also mixes in a real cannon shot from the blue line, making him an offensive threat, especially on the power play. Although he generates solid speed levels, his skating can look a bit unbalanced at times as he is choppy in his pivots and when he attempts to change directions. His agility slightly lacks and can be exposed by quicker attackers when forced to pivot and turn. Niemelainen plays hard on his man, but does have a bit of a tendency to focus a little too much on the puck; doing so causes him to miss his man in the process. He does funnel players to the outside with his strong positioning, long reach and aggressive stick work. He displays some rough reads about when to pinch or hang back in defensive posture, but the hope is he will learn to eliminate those lapses in judgment as he matures in his understanding of the position. Niemelainen is a raw defender and work in progress, but the sky is the limit on him.   (May 2016)