Vancouver Canucks 2016 NHL Draft Profile: D Markus Niemelainen

Jun 26, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; A general view of the podium on stage before the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 26, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; A general view of the podium on stage before the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The Vancouver Canucks are preparing for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft — and so are we.

Unfortunately, the 2015-16 season was cut short for the Vancouver Canucks, which means we have a long offseason ahead of us. Canucks GM Jim Benning and his staff will use the time to prepare next season’s roster, and the 2016 NHL Entry Draft will certainly play an important part in that process.

Vancouver started off strong in the fall of 2015 but ended the season with a thud. Thanks to their abysmal 28th rank in the league standings, the Canucks own seven picks early in each round. Benning did a great job in his first two years at the job and another successful draft could certainly help boost the rebuild.

Here at The Canuck Way, we will do our best to prepare you for the upcoming event by profiling as many draft-eligible players as we possibly can. Keep in mind that we are not saying these are players the Canucks are targeting. Instead, these are players that we think the Canucks could or should have interest in.

Next up is Markus Niemelainen, a huge defenseman currently playing for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL.

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Name: Markus Niemelainen

Position: Defense

Shoots: Left

Height, weight: 6’6”, 205 lbs

Team/League: Saginaw Spirit, OHL

Stats (from 







NHL CSS Ranking: 52nd (North American Skaters)

Risk, Reward: 2.5/5, 3.5/5

NHL-potential: Top-Four Defenseman

Draft Range: Early Second to Early Third Round

Scouting report

"A complete all-around defenceman that makes the game look easy. Natural size and strength compliment his smooth stride. Very mobile skater who moves up and down the ice quickly, with acute recognition of puck and body position. His maturity and poise is actualized in his high-percentage decision-making, with and without the puck, as well as his proactive stick and body play. Very stable defensively and always takes his lane, but is quick to rush the puck up the ice as he recognizes and accounts for how much time his team is spending in their own end. All-in-all, a quick-thinking defenceman that, honestly lacking nothing, has the potential to develop into a reliable two-way defenceman. (Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects 2016)"


Markus Niemelainen is a huge defenseman from Finland who plays anything but what you would call the European style. His biggest attributes — literally — are his frame and hitting ability, along with a good reach and stick work.

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At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, Niemelainen looks quite scary on the ice. That feeling gets even worse once he slams the first opponent into the boards. Niemelainen knows exactly what to do when he is deep in his own zone, whether that is throwing his body around, pinning opponents to the boards or blocking shots.

All that is only possible because Niemelainen is a really good skater for his size. He is mobile enough to stay in position and react to the play, and he is a good enough skater to keep up with his opponents on the backcheck.

While Niemelainen is mostly outstanding in his own zone, he possesses good offensive abilities as well. He can drive the puck up ice, plays good breakout passes and possesses a heavy shot. Saginaw played a rather bad season overall and finished sixth-last in goal-scoring, so a goal and 26 assists are not bad. Especially considering that this was his first North American season which needed a lot of adjustment.


As said above, Niemelainen is an outstanding player deep in his own zone. The important part is ‘deep’ here — as in below the faceoff circles. Anything that moves more towards offense reveals holes in his game.

Size and mobility are certainly there for the 6-foot-6 D-man. It is the execution and reading the game that makes scouts think twice about him. He makes questionable decisions in all three zones and needs to mature and improve his overall game and understanding of it to make it at the next level.

Final Thoughts

Any defenseman of Niemelainen’s size draws the scouts’ attention, not only because he sticks out height-wise, when he can skate and hit like the Finn does. However, there is a lot to improve in his game, unless you just want to park him in front of the net.

If he turns into that NHL two-way defenseman, though, he can be a great and exciting one at that. He skates well, hits hard, has an active stick, can pass the puck and has a heavy shot. What else do you want in a defenseman?

Some scouts saw him as top-10 talent going into the season, but by now, you can find him ranked anywhere between the late first and late third round. For the Vancouver Canucks, he could be an option in the second or third round, depending on how much they like him. Just to mention it again: there is a lot to like about him.

Next: More 2016 NHL Draft Profiles

If he falls to the third round, snagging him would be a smart move for the Canucks. In the second round, there might be better options available, but that is not to say that Niemelainen would not be part of that group of options. Niemelainen could be picked as early as the late first round, simply because the combination of size, mobility and offense is such an intriguing one.