With the 63rd-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Edmonton took big, Finnish defenceman Markus Niemelainen.
“Very proud and excited to be a part of the Oilers organization, and looking forward to see what is coming next,” he said.
At 6-foot-6, Niemelainen towerd over much of the competition in the Ontario Hockey League this season. In 65 games for the Saginaw Spirit, Niemelainen recorded 27 points (1-26-27).
Niemelainen describes himself as a two-way defenceman, who is more defensively inclined than offensively. However, the Oilers do see a little offensive upside in his game. A tough year for his Saginaw squad perhaps limited production.
“It was a tough year in Saginaw,” said Oilers Director of Player Personnel Bob Green said. “He lost his defensive coach early and then they fired the head coach later. It was a tough year for those kids on that team. He’s big, he can skate, he can move the puck. He likes to play the game with a little bit of offensive flare. I don’t think his numbers this year are indicative of his talent level. There’s more there than just a 6-foot-6 shutdown guy.”
Toward the end of the pre-draft process it seemed as if Niemelainen’s name was being associated with a second or even first-round pick. So the Oilers were surprised to see him there at 63.
“We were,” said Green.
There’s potential Niemelainen returns to his home country next year, but it isn’t confirmed. The Oilers just want him to go somewhere to grow his game.
“We want him to go somewhere where he’s going to play and develop,” said Green. “We’ll have that discussion with him. He’s got options for sure. We try to let the player determine that. If they need help, we can help but they have plans where they want to go. It’s tough to alter that for them. They have to feel comfortable with it.”