Leafs' top defensive prospect Topi Niemelä heading to Toronto this week

Mar 29 2023, 3:45 pm

Topi Niemelä is one step closer to making his mark on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization.

For the past three years, fans have wondered when they’ll get a chance to see the fleet-footed defensive prospect on this side of the pond.

As per The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke, Niemelä will be joining the Toronto Marlies later this week.

A third-round pick of the Leafs in the 2020 NHL draft at 64th overall, Niemelä has yet to make his North American pro debut. A 21-year-old right-shot defenceman from Oulu, Finland, Niemelä has spent each of the last four seasons playing professionally in his home country’s domestic league.

In 58 games with Karpat this season in SM-liiga (Finland’s top pro division),  Niemelä has eight goals and 10 assists for a total of 18 points. He also played in three playoff games this season, though his squad was eliminated in the first round by KooKoo.

His performance this year was an offensive drop-off from his 2021-22 season, where he managed 10 goals and 22 assists for 32 points in just 48 games.

Though he’s now aged out of it, he’s also become a staple of Finland’s World Juniors roster, where he put up 15 points in 16 contests over 2021-22, including two games at the cancelled/postponed tournament held in Edmonton in December 2021.

He was named Best Defenseman at the 2021 edition of the tournament, following in the footsteps of former Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin, who won the award at the 2020 edition of the tournament.

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