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Leafs Top-40 Prospect List - #3

September 22, 2022, 2:05 PM ET [324 Comments]
Mike Augello
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The Toronto Maple Leafs organization has drafted and developed a number of youngsters currently playing in the NHL (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Pierre Engvall, and Justin Holl), but the club under GM Kyle Dubas has to keep replenishing the prospect pool to provide the Leafs with youngsters who can step up and replace veterans who retire, depart via free agency or are traded.

As we did last year, we will rank the club’s top prospects over the upcoming weeks based on their progress in either the NCAA, CHL, Europe, ECHL or AHL and their potential to make the Leafs roster and make a contribution in the future.

Players are eligible for the list if they have not played more than 40 NHL games:

#40 - Vladislav Kara – LW (Yugra - VHL)
#39 - Kalle Loponen – D (Koo Koo Kouvola/JyP HT – Finland SM-Liiga)
#38 - Jeremy McKenna – RW (Wichita – ECHL, Toronto – AHL)
#37 - John Fusco – D (Harvard – NCAA)
#36 - Noel Hoefenmayer – D (Newfoundland – ECHL, Toronto – AHL)
#35 - Ryan Chyzowski - LW (Newfoundland - ECHL, Toronto - AHL)
#34 - Braeden Kressler - C (Flint - OHL)
#33 - Nikita Grebyonkin - RW (Stalnye Lisy - MHL, Magnitogorsk - KHL)
#32 - Vyacheslav Peksa - G (Ibris Kazan - MHL)
#31 - Dryden McKay - G (Minnesota Duluth - NCAA)
#30 - Bobby McMann - C (Newfoundland - ECHL, Toronto - AHL)
#29 - Pavel Gogolev – LW (Newfoundland - ECHL, Toronto – AHL)
#28 - Joe Miller – C (Chicago – USHL)
#27 - Veeti Miettinen – RW (St. Cloud St. – NCAA)
#26 - Brandon Lisowsky - LW (Saskatoon - WHL)
#25 - Max Ellis - RW (Notre Dame - NCAA, Toronto - AHL)
#24 - Axel Rindell – D (Karpat – Finland SM-Liiga)
#23 - Mac Hollowell - D (Toronto – AHL)
#22 - Artur Akhtyamov – G (Ak Bars Kazan – MHL/VHL/KHL)
#21 - Semyon Der-Argushintsev - C (Toronto - AHL)
#20 - Curtis Douglas - C (Toronto – AHL)
#19 - Mikhail Abramov – C (Toronto – AHL)
#18 - Dennis Hildeby - G (Farjestad - SHL)
#17 - Ty Voit – LW (Sarnia – OHL)
#16 - Filip Kral - D (Toronto - AHL)
#15 - Nick Moldenhauer - RW (Chicago - USHL)
#14 - Rodion Amirov – LW (Ufa Salavat – KHL)
#13 - Ryan Tverberg – C (Connecticut – NCAA)
#12 - Joseph Woll – G (Toronto – AHL/NHL)
#11 - Mikko Kokkonen – D (Pelicans – Finland SM-Liiga)
#10 - Fraser Minten - C (Kamloops - WHL)
#9 - William Villeneuve – D (Saint John – QMJHL)
#8 - Dmitry Ovchinnikov – LW (Sibir Novosibirsk – MHL/KHL, Toronto - AHL)
#7 - Roni Hirvonen – C (HIFK Helsinki – Finland SM-Liiga)
#6 - Alex Steeves – C (Toronto - AHL/NHL)
#5 - Nick Abruzzese - C (Harvard – NCAA/Toronto - NHL)
#4 - Pontus Holmberg – LW (Vaxjo HC – SHL /Toronto - AHL)

#3 - Topi Niemela - D (Karpat - Finnish SM-Liiga)

The Toronto Maple Leafs went heavy on European prospects in 2020, which was likely a tactic implemented because of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide a longer development window. GM Kyle Dubas once again moved down in the 2020 NHL Draft to get extra picks, trading a mid-second rounder to Ottawa for a late second (Roni Hirvonen) and a third-round pick which the Leafs used to select Finnish defenseman, Topi Niemela.

Niemela played 58 games over two seasons in the SM-Liiga with Karpat as a 17 and 18-year-old and tallied 11 points (1 goal, 10 assists), but had a coming-out party at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships, leading all defensemen in scoring with eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in seven games and earning the prize for the tournament’s top blueliner. Last season, the 20-year-old broke out offensively, finishing sixth in Liiga among defensemen with 32 points (10 goals, 22 points) and six assists in seven games at the 2022 WJC.

“He's a really good defender, really quick to close gaps, take away time and space.” Leafs former Director of Amateur Scouting John Lilley said. “(Niemela is) a first pass guy, not necessarily going to run your power play. Good instincts....not the biggest guy, so not overly physical at this time since he's playing against men, (but) one of the best defensive instincts in the entire draft.”

The speedy Finn was extremely effective in distributing and rushing the puck as a power play quarterback and in spite of not being a big defender showed a willingness to stand up physically to the opposition. After signing his ELC with Toronto, it is expected that Niemela will play one more year in Europe before heading to North America in 2023.

“He’s a strong skater in both directions and has very impressive lateral movement.” EP Rinkside’s Lassi Alanen said prior to the draft. (Niemela is) a confident player with the puck, showing no fear against forecheckers in Liiga. He can distribute the puck through layers on the breakout and also has the feet to carry the puck up the ice himself. Defensively, he was able to hold his own against pro-level opposition.”


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