What about Markus Niemelainen?

There’s no question that Markus Niemelainen provides the dimensions (meanness and physicality) that the Edmonton Oilers lack in their blue line. Simply put, the Great Finn doesn’t need a written invitation to run people over. He is a puncher who leaves opponents blowing snot bubbles. His cover letter is exactly what coach Jay Woodcroft doesn’t have in his lineup.

The question right now, with GM Ken Holland looking to cut salary to meet the cap and the Oilers likely starting the season with a shortened roster, is how to fit Niemelainen into a mix that includes Darnell Nurse, Cody Ceci, Philip Broberg, Tyson Barrie. , Brett Kulak, Evan Bouchard, Jason Demers and Ryan Murray.

Niemelainen, 24, played in the Oilers’ first two preseason games, a 4-0 win over Winnipeg on Sunday and a 3-0 loss to the Seattle Kraken on Monday. He hasn’t looked the least bit out of place. He played 15:25 against the Jets, scored the 1-0 goal and was plus-2. He clocked 5:49 pm in a yawn of low events in Seattle. He had five hits against the Kraken and six against the Jets.

Announcement – Continue reading below

Niemelainen knows exactly how he has to play to stay in the NHL. That was obvious the other night when reporters tried to get him to speak on his 1-0 goal against the Jets. “I’m not skilled enough, so you have to think of something else,” he said. The Oilers have a lot of offensive talent down the blue line, but no one who has opponents in a cold sweat with their heads on a spin. Niemelainen enters.

WHAT THEY SAY

September 29, 2021; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenders Markus Niemelainen (80) at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

“He is a unique defender. Almost a throwback, as he has that physical element about him,” Woodcroft said after the win over Winnipeg. “He sneaks up on people. People don’t expect it. But he’s long, he closes fast and he’s an excellent skater. He has gotten into the conversation to compete for ice time on the blue line.”

If Woodcroft pairs Nurse with Ceci, as he did last season, Kulak with Bouchard and Broberg with Barrie to start the season, where does Niemelainen fit in? Does he fit? Even with a 22-man roster, I can’t imagine the Oilers don’t have seven D-men (I’m thinking 13-7-2 to start). Could Niemelainen fit in as a small forward between the press box and the third pair?

Perhaps, given the salary-cap situation, Niemelainen makes more sense as a Bakersfield call-up during the season. Ryan Rishaug talked about that with Dustin Nielson today and he framed the situation very well: “Let’s change the conversation and take the edge off because it’s a more interesting conversation,” Rishaug said.

Announcement – Continue reading below

“Let’s say game 10 of the regular season if they have the ability to go back and forth and have whoever they want, can he participate in that conversation? That’s really what we’re talking about here and I would say, ‘Yeah, he has the ability.’ He is big. He skates well. And he loves to run people over. That is no longer a dimension that you encounter very often.

“If he can bring that dimension and he can show that his hands have sped up a little bit, his decision-making has sped up a little bit and he can handle the speed and thought process at the NHL level, you love that dimension.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

In short, bringing together a group of defenders is all about finding the right mix. You can’t freeze six running backs and hope for success and you can’t get the job done with half a dozen guys staying home who can’t make a 20-foot pass. A variety of skills that covers all the bases contributes to balance.

Niemelainen isn’t better than anyone in the top six right now, but he sure is different than Barrie, Broberg or Bouchard. He’s what the Oilers don’t have, and in my view, that in itself makes him worth looking at.

  • When: On Thursday, January 12, we will be taking a flight out of Edmonton International Airport and heading to Las Vegas. On Sunday night, we will fly back from Las Vegas to Edmonton. So the dates you need to book for this trip are January 12-15.
  • Where we stay: After landing in LV, we’ll hop on the free shuttle and head to Park MGM before settling in for a good night’s sleep. 😉
  • What you get: Your round-trip flight, hotel, transportation, viewing party (Friday night), game entry – we’ve got seats this time (Saturday night), and exclusive entry to our pre-trip “meet them all” event.
  • How many: The total cost of travel, flight, hotel and entry to the game is $1499 per person (based on double occupancy)
  • Tickets: Ready to dive in? click this link.

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