The Toronto Maple Leafs face important decisions about a number of different players during the offseason. One of them is the promising prospect, Topi Niemela. Because the Maple Leafs believe the window on this team might be closing, the decision to maximize the team’s chances of winning a championship in the near future seems paramount.
As a result, trade discussions involving Niemela have emerged. In this post, I’ll explore the arguments for and against trading Niemela, considering the team’s current situation, his potential, and the potential returns in a trade. I’ll then make a case for NOT trading him even if the team could do so.
Niemela’s Potential Upside
Niemela is a talented young defenseman from Finland. He’s shown promise playing in Europe and also during his time with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. He plays a solid two-way game, has impressive skating ability, and he has the potential to contribute to the power play.
All these things make him an appealing prospect. With the proper development and some opportunity, Niemela could develop into a valuable asset for the NHL’s Maple Leafs.
The word on Niemela is that he takes phenomenal care of the puck. This skill, along with the fact that he’s a great passing defenseman with good on-ice vision who can distribute the puck through layers or players in the neutral zone, make him a solid puck-moving defenseman.
Niemela isn’t lacking either competence or confidence when he has the puck on his stick. He’s smart and makes wise decisions to move the play up the ice quickly.
The Team’s Win-Now Mentality
Because the Maple Leafs’ organization is feeling the pressure to win now, there’s a feeling that the team’s window to compete for a championship is closing. The team needs to make the kind of roster moves that will improve the roster in the short term.
That priority might make the 21-year-old Niemela, who other teams see as a quality future NHL player, trade bait. He’s probably not yet ready to fit into the team’s immediate plans.
Trade Bait and Depth
The Maple Leafs’ hope to bolster its roster for immediate success. Would Niemela become trade bait to acquire a player who can contribute right away? If there is a chance to acquire a proven NHL player who can address a specific need the team has (and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Scott Laughton has been mentioned), would the team consider including Niemela in a trade package?
Competition for Roster Spots
The team’s defence is far from set. However, with players like Timothy Liljegren and Conor Timmins in the mix, it might be tough for Niemela to crack the NHL roster. The roster isn’t overcrowded with defensemen. It’s more that there are a number of beginning defensemen who are young and might hinder his development and limit his chances.
Would the team see trading Niemela as a way to clear the logjam and allow the team to pursue other options?
The Uncertainty of Potential
Although Niemela has displayed strong potential, he’s not a guarantee to fill a roster spot let alone become a star. Who knows with young defensemen? Can he potentially become a top-four defenseman? Will he be able to adjust to the NHL’s physicality?
Such uncertainty might make trading him appealing. It eliminates any risk associated with his development.
The Bottom Line
The decision to trade Niemela is a complex one. However, I hope the team does not trade him. He has too much potential; and, I believe the holes in the defence can be filled by older defensemen who might become place-holders for the team.
It just seems wise to me that, although the team has a win-now mentality, they should seek to hit a home run with a prospect who potentially has talent. And that seems to be Niemela.
It’s time the team began to rely on its pipeline of prospects to fill the roster positions. I hope Niemela is given a chance to develop within the organization. The Maple Leafs’ roster will undergo significant changes this off-season. However, I hope Niemale is not one of the young players who’s moved on.