Could the 63rd overall pick in the 2016 draft turn out to be a steal for the Edmonton Oilers?
The Oilers took Saginaw Spirit defenceman Markus Niemelainen in that spot. The 6’5″, 18-year-old from Finland was projected by some to go late in the first round.
“He’s got reach. He can skate like he’s 5’10”. He’s silky smooth that way and has a ton of potential,” says Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill.
Drinkill says Niemelainen had to get used to the North American style of play and the grind of the schedule, which sometimes means playing three games in three nights.
“Like any young guy, he did hit a wall at times. But he overcame it well. He’s a great person. He comes from such a great family that it made it easier for him,” says Drinkill.
“It was a big adjustment to come to North America. It’s a different language and a different culture,” says Niemelainen. “The game is faster here and it’s more physical than back home.”
Niemelainen finished with one goal and 26 assists in 65 games in the OHL. His season ended with a gold medal with Finland at the World Under-18 tourney in North Dakota.
“It was the best way to end the season,” he says. “It’s always fun to play for Team Finland.”
Niemelainen should play a bigger role on the Spirit next season and will be expected to be more of a presence on their power play.
“I want to work on my shot. I need to get stronger and play more physical to be harder to play against,” he says.
“I think he has a very high ceiling,” Drinkill adds. “His shot and offensive game have a high upside and he hasn’t scratched the surface of that yet.
“He’s a very bright individual. He knows what he has to work on and he works on those things.”
If Niemelainen works hard and hits his ceiling, the Oilers will come off looking like thieves. (jrw)