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Niemi making the best choices

Finnish defenceman happy he crossed ocean to suit up for Blades

Wednesday, 18.06.2008 / 10:48 AM / Features
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Niemi making the best choices
Jyri Niemi opted to move from Finland to Western Canada, and the move has worked out perfectly. Niemi led all WHL rookie defensemen in goals, was third in points, and is a top prospect for the 2008 Entry Draft.

Jyri Niemi has earned the No. 25 ranking among North American skaters after leaving Finland to play for Saskatoon in the WHL.
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Jyri Niemi could have stayed with the HPK team in Finland, but the 6-foot-1, 197-pound Saskatoon Blades defenceman decided to take a different developmental path.

“I wanted to see how good I really am,” Niemi told “I hear the best players play in the WHL. I have a friend who played in Red Deer and he told me this is the best league you can go and play in.”

So Niemi packed his bags and left his home and family in Hameenkyro, Finland, for Saskatoon and the Western Hockey League. It was a successful journey, to say the least.

Niemi led WHL rookie defencemen with 14 goals and was third with 34 points, in addition to winning the hardest-shot competition at the CHL Top Prospects Game. He also earned the No. 25 ranking among North American skaters from NHL Central Scouting. Not bad for someone who’s only been a defenceman for about four years.

"I had speed and I could skate forwards and backwards,” said Niemi. “So when I was 13 or 14, my coach told me that I have to be a defenceman. The first time that I heard that, I just left the rink and I said, 'I'm never going to play with you again.' I was so mad. I loved scoring goals and when you're on defence, you have to defend."

While it wasn’t a transition he didn’t particularly enjoy, it’s one that has gone smoothly.

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"Jyri is adjusting well to the North American game,” said NHL director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire. “He has good poise and stickhandling ability from the back end. He quarterbacks the power play, with a heavy shot from the point. He has an offensive flair to his game and is an entertaining player to watch.

"More dependability in the defensive zone will guarantee that he projects into a No. 3 or 4 defenceman in the league, with the potential to be a 1-2 defenceman."

Niemi said the transition from Finland to the WHL wasn’t difficult and his English skills already were good, but there were some on-ice differences.

“Some things took a while, but it wasn’t that big of a deal for me,” Niemi told “It was just some game stuff that I had to get used to. Mostly defending. In Finland we defend man against man, but here we defend zone. That was the biggest adjustment for me.

“There is so much more speed over here than in Finland. The physical play is a lot harder than Finland. The players are bigger, stronger, faster. The whole league is really different than the league back home.”

During his meetings with teams at the NHL scouting combine, Niemi said he received praise for his willingness to travel to North America in his draft year.

“There aren’t that many players from Europe willing to come over here and play here,” said Niemi. “I think they appreciate that I came over here. They said they thought it was a great decision for me to come over here and play in the WHL.”

Contact Adam Kimelman at

Author: Adam Kimelman | Staff Writer




1 DET 48 28 11 9 144 123 65
2 TBL 49 30 15 4 158 131 64
3 MTL 46 30 13 3 126 108 63
4 BOS 48 25 16 7 126 121 57
5 FLA 45 20 15 10 111 127 50
6 TOR 49 22 23 4 143 152 48
7 OTT 46 19 18 9 126 128 47
8 BUF 48 14 31 3 90 171 31


B. Ryan 43 12 21 7 33
E. Karlsson 46 11 22 -5 33
K. Turris 46 9 20 -8 29
M. Stone 44 11 15 9 26
M. Hoffman 43 16 9 19 25
C. MacArthur 45 13 11 -7 24
M. Zibanejad 44 11 12 1 23
D. Legwand 45 7 12 -4 19
A. Chiasson 43 7 10 -8 17
M. Michalek 42 6 9 -7 15
C. Anderson 13 11 7 .927 2.37
R. Lehner 6 7 2 .900 3.16