37. Topi Niemelä RD – 5’11, 156 lbs
Topi Niemelä plays a very smooth and aggressive style that is predicated on moving the puck and transitional play. Playing the whole year with men in the Finnish Liiga for Kärpät, Niemelä showed good poise and a penchant for pushing the pace of the game in the offensive direction.
As evidenced by the sequence above, Niemelä is the type of defenseman that likes to attack open ice in the offensive zone. He’s the kind of defenseman that will take advantage of every inch of open ice in order to increase the danger of his precise and powerful wrist shot. Furthermore, Niemelä can be quite a playmaker, often getting the defense to bite on his shot attempt, only to make a pass to an open player for an offensive opportunity.
Solid hit from Topi Niemela.. Hugo Styf was not styf enough.— Yannick St-Pierre (@DraftDynasty1) February 8, 2020
*I still like Hugo Styf. He had a few very solid games when I was watching Wallinder. One of the youngest player in the draft too. Could be a decent late 3rd, 4th round pick. pic.twitter.com/jHxEBpH6gp
Although many believe he still needs to work on his defensive zone coverage and gap control, I found that Niemelä improved in this department as the season went on, and it became extremely apparent against players of his own age. Niemelä is also pretty physical for a smaller D, which reminds many people of a young Ryan Ellis. His potential as a top-4 defenseman is undeniable and it really is going to be about him continuing to challenge himself and improve the defensive side of his game.
38. Ryan O’Rourke LD – 6’, 178 lbs
Ryan O’Rourke is a strong and rugged defender from the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds who loves to distribute some solid checks and make smart offensive plays. What I like is that O’Rourke is not shy about jumping into the play and uses some underrated stickhandling to fake out his opponents in order to enter the high-danger areas with speed.
O’ Rourke is a tough customer who isn’t afraid of dropping the gloves, while also having exceptional positional awareness. he is certainly a more defensively sound player who is able to properly box out the opposition with his long reach and good skating. His ability to gap-control is already very good and he could easily start a counter attack the other way.
Many question his offensive ability at the next level, but I disagree, as O’Rourke has a very deceptive and heavy wrist shot, while being a very underrated playmaker on the powerplay as a quarterback. He’s a top-4 D in the making that will play a sound two-way game.
39. Samuel Johannesson RD – 5’11, 159 lbs
Johannesson is an overager (Born Dec 2000), but has had quite the development curve in his post-Draft Year. Forcing his way into a regular role for Rogle in the SHL, he put up 1 goal and 10 assists in 44 games, which is impressive for a young defenseman.
His main qualities are efficient and precise passes, solid skating which compliments his great transitional game, and his severely undervalued Hockey IQ. Johannesson is not the biggest guy, but he compensates for his stature with solid positioning and underrated gap control.
To start the SHL pre-season, Johannesson has been given top-pair duty to start, displaying the immense confidence and progress the youngster has shown in such a little time span. He is one of my biggest draft wild cards, as some have even ranked him in the late 1st round.
40. Lukas Cormier LD – 5’10, 180 lbs
Cormier could realistically be the most underrated defenseman of this entire draft. Possessing good speed and great Hockey IQ, Cormier is, above all an exceptionally well-rounded defenseman capable of limiting the opposition as they enter the zone and box them out for an eventual turnover. Cormier is extremely agile as it pertains to puck retrieval and attacking the top of the slot. He can unleash his strong and incredibly deceptive wrist-shot at any moment, making him very deceptive.
Although Cormier is indeed on the smaller size, his intelligence makes up for it (I know, sounds familiar?). He knows exactly where to be on the ice, both offensively and defensively. He will never over-aggresively pinch into the offensive zone, but certainly does not shy away from joining the rush and providing support to his teammates. In fact, Cormier isn’t opposed to taking the puck from his own end to the offensive end, making him a dual threat and a possession-driven, two-way D. He plays a game akin to Samuel Girard, but with a tad less offensive flair. Anyone who sleeps on him due to his size will be doing themselves a major disservice.
Absolutely massive game for Lukas Cormier today, logging eight (!!) shots and this beautiful goal as Charlottetown bested Acadie-Bathurst 3-1.— Sam (@DraftLook) October 6, 2019
Stop sleeping on Cormier! Easy top 25 talent. pic.twitter.com/18QsppqfYW
41. Roni Hirvonen C – 5’9, 164 lbs
Hirvoven is an incredibly intelligent player capable of adapting to almost any situation and using his high Hockey IQ to chose the right play almost every time. Hirvonen is just a sublime playmaker, who is able to use the open space available to him to quickly find open teammates even while under pressure. In the sequence below, we see the skill and speed of execution of Hirvonen, as he’s being converged on, which he uses to quickly find the open man in the slot for beauty goal.
This is rather impressive for a 17-year-old in a men’s league like the Finnish Liiga. His 5 goals and 7 assists for 12 points in 52 games may seem unimpressive, but he really began to find his game as the season went on. Most notably, he began to play a far more aggressive game predicated on relentless hard work and a strong work ethic. In the sequenc ebelow, we see exactly this, as he strips the opposing player of the puck along the boards through good work and an active stick. However, he then fearlessly drives to the net, protects the puck beautifully and bangs home the goal. A gutsy and gritty goal from someone many call soft. (Not me)
I personally believe Hirvonen has a legit shot at being a top-6 centre in the NHL if he continues to work on his speed and strength. He clearly thinks the game at an elite level and just needs to work on diversifying his offensive tool selection to become more selfish with the puck.