Have Edmonton Oilers found their missing link on defence? The Finnisher makes his move

Have Edmonton Oilers found their missing link on defence? The Finnisher makes his move

Publishing date:

Feb 17, 2022  •  5 days ago  •  4 minute read  •  5 Comments

Markus Niemelainen #80 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Seattle Kraken during the third period at Climate Pledge Arena on December 03, 2021 in Seattle, Washington.
Markus Niemelainen #80 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Seattle Kraken during the third period at Climate Pledge Arena on December 03, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Steph Chambers /Getty Images

You can’t always get what you want but maybe the Edmonton Oilers have found what they need on defence, a decent hockey player who pounds the hell out of opposing players with body-bruising hits.

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Yes, It would be great if the Oilers could bring in another d-man capable of acing it in a Top 4 role, as only Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci have done so far this year for the Oilers. Edmonton is two Top 4 d-men short of a being a solid defensive team and top drawer Stanley Cup contender.

Maybe Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, Michael Kesselring or even William Lagesson will develop into that Top 4 ace in years to come. For now, though, big, rough and tough Markus Niemelainen is giving this team a massive jolt of one aspect of the game it’s been desperately lacking: nasty physical play.

He’s the Finnisher, a bull dozer of a d-man, exactly what the Oilers haven’t had this year as Adam Larsson left for Seattle.

For NHL d-men who have played 10 or more games this year, Niemelainen ranks 2nd overall in hits, with 21.1 hits per 60 minutes of play, behind only Mason Geertsen of New Jersey (who is listed as a d-man on NHL.com but has played as a forward this year in New Jersey).

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Niemelainen not only hits, he hits to hurt, and it’s an aspect of his game that is only growing in magnitude. He wasn’t such a big hitter in major junior hockey. But he’s done what so many players at the minor pro level fail to do, upped his physical play and fierceness in order to put himself in contention for an NHL job.

On the Oilers, his hitting has been particularly impactful because this Oilers team is far more high on skill than it is on physicality. He’s got almost three times as many hits per 60 as the next most physical d-man, Darnell Nurse.

Numerous d-men on the team, namely Evan Bouchard, Tyson Barrie, Duncan Keith and Philip Broberg, rarely hit. I’m not saying these d-men aren’t tough guys, but they’re not exactly Big Bobby Clobbers of the NHL. And every NHL team needs a few Big Bobby Clobbers.

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But what of Niemelainen the player? The 6-feet, 5-inch Niemo skates well enough to hang in the NHL, but his puckhandling, passing and reads are a work in progress. He sometimes struggles to move the puck swiftly and deftly, to make tape-to-tape passes to breaking players. The key for him is going to be his defensive reads, his ability to stay on the right side of attacking forwards and to make safe and sound plays with the puck, even if he does not make brilliant ones.

At the Cult, we rare players, in part, by how many Grade A shots they help create as opposed to how many Grade A shots against they make mistakes on.

Niemo has only played 122 even strength minutes, which isn’t really enough time to get a solid read on him as the NHL level, but he’s aced it so far when it comes to Grade A shots. If he plays another 150 minutes and we’re seeing the same thing, especially if he’s able to lock it down tight in his own zone, Edmonton might have itself a useful piece of the puzzle.

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P.S. Congrats to the women of Team Canada for their gold medal win. I wish I was more into these Olympics, and more into this team, but having the Games in China took the joy out of the entire event for me. I’ve barely watched any of it. But that does not take away from the immense accomplishment of the Canadian women, the best female hockey squad on earth.

No one does it like Canada in hockey. No one comes close.

You come at Canada, be ready to lose.

P.P.S. Best advert of the Olympics? This one does it for me.

“When winter comes, it teaches us to stand strong,” a native speaker says a few minutes into it.

That’s how I see it, too.

That’s been my life.

My own family is multi-racial, from all over the world and also here for centuries in Canada. Your family is probably a lot like my family. We’re from Germany, Russia and Vietnam, Scotland and England, from Nova Scotia, Ontario and Baffin Island, and we’re all here now, enduring this country but also thriving in it.

Likely just me, but this advert had me weeping a bit.

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