A day after experiencing an excruciating overtime loss, Toronto Maple Leafs fans have something to cheer about today. The team has announced three-year entry-level contracts for both Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemela, which will start next season and carry average annual values o $856,666.
Hirvonen, 20, was the 59th selection in 2020, picked out of Finland’s top league after holding his own as a teenager. In the two years since Hirvonen has shown that was no fluke, and had 26 points in 46 games for HIFK Helsinki this season. His excellent two-way play elevated him to captain of Finland’s World Junior team this year, though the club was only able to play in two games before the tournament was postponed due to COVID-19. He will still be eligible for the event later this summer, though perhaps he will be more focused on competing to land a spot with the Maple Leafs in the fall.
Speaking of World Junior standouts, Niemela made his own name at the tournament in 2021 by leading all defensemen in scoring. He earned best defenseman of the tournament honors and then took that success back to his league play. This season for Karpat, Niemela was a scoring machine, recording ten goals and 32 points in 48 games by constantly joining the rush and letting shots fly from the point. He too will be eligible for the rescheduled junior tournament this summer, though again, a future with the Maple Leafs organization may be more important at this point.
While neither one is a lock to step into the NHL right away, both are on the fast track to making an impact with the Maple Leafs after spending so much time in the professional ranks in Finland. Hirvonen and Niemela were ranked sixth and third respectively in the Toronto prospect pool by Scott Wheeler of The Athletic earlier this year, and should quickly rise up the depth charts now that they have inked their first deals.