Is one Leafs defensive prospect ready to push for a job out of training camp?

Nicolas Lethbridge
July 23, 2023  (9:17)

With Toronto Maple Leafs training camp for the 2023/24 season in the not so distant future, could Leafs blue chip defensive prospect Topi Niemela turn some heads and push for a spot? It's no secret the cap-strapped Leafs need to start leaning more on some of their up-and-coming prospects currently playing for the Toronto Marlies.

Niemela, the young defensive prospect from Oulu, Finland, was drafted in the 3rd round, 64th overall, in the 2020 NHL Draft. Niamela was playing for Karpat of the SM-Liiga, until he came over with fellow Fin, Roni Hirvonen, to join the Toronto Marlies last season. The 21-year-old, 5'11", 170lb right shot defenseman still has some growing to do, but he might just be what the Leafs need in an up and comer on the back end. Some might say we desperately need to replace Rasmus Sandin, a very talented left-handed young gun whom the Leafs traded to Washington Capitals in return for Erik Gustafsson & Boston's 1st round selection in 2023.
As hockey fans will recall, Niemela had a very strong 2021 season with a breakout performance at the World Jr. Championships that same year. He also played exceedingly well for his native Karpat in Finland. Niemela finished 2nd in scoring among defensemen in SM-Liiga with 10G, 22A in 48 games that season. More recently, he split his final year in Karpat by coming over to North America, where he scored 2 points in the final 6 games of the Toronto Marlies' season.
A vulnerable spot on the Leafs' D corps some might say is the right side, which happens to be where Niemela shines. Currently, Brodie, Klingberg, and Liljegren occupy the right side. There are still a number of issues still to be ironed out for the Leafs this summer, including talks of an Erik Karlsson trade, Nylander's future, and whether T.J. Brodie will still be in the blue and white in the fall. A clearer picture should become available as the summer rolls on and the decisions of some of these high profile players become known. Much of this hinges on how aggressive or calculated Leafs GM Brad Treliving decides to be to shape his club, and putting a stamp on this team.
With such a flat cap and limited cap space, the Leafs will need to look into the possibility of using their own prospects to fill out the roster in the coming seasons. Players like Niemela and McMann, may take a step forward in the upcoming training camp where they may turn enough heads to garner a call-up during the season due to an injury. The likelihood of Niamela making the Leafs this season is very low, but his time is coming. In fact it wouldn't be surprising to see GM Brad Treliving pull off a trade to bring in an experienced defenseman to shore up our back end as a stop-gap, knowing full well that we have an absolute stud coming up through the ranks. His only obstacle now is time.
23 JUILLET   |   210 ANSWERS
Is one Leafs defensive prospect ready to push for a job out of training camp?

Will Topi Niemela get a shot on the Leafs defense corps in 2023?

Yes, due to injury7234.3 %
No, not a chance4220 %
He'll get a 9-game trial during the season9645.7 %
Latest 10 stories