Niemelainen was sent to Bakersfield in late November, and now finds himself back on the Oilers’ roster after a 10-game stint in the AHL.
Niemelainen, 24, was a third-round pick of the Oilers at the 2016 draft, and has developed steadily since that point. The rangy six-foot-six Finn played two seasons in the OHL before making the jump to professional hockey in Liiga. Niemelainen crossed the Atlantic once again in 2020-21 to play for Bakersfield, and he made his NHL debut last season.
In 20 games last year Niemelainen had one assist, skating just over 13 minutes per night with over a minute on the penalty kill. So far this year, Niemelainen’s usage in 15 NHL games played has been light. He averages under ten minutes of ice time per night, and his time on the penalty kill has declined as well.
At the AHL level, though, Niemelainen’s overall role reflects what the Oilers are likely hoping he can develop into on their NHL squad. Niemelainen plays top-four minutes in Bakersfield with a heavy dosage of penalty-killing time, and that reflects the Oilers’ faith that he can potentially develop into a shutdown specialist at the NHL level.
Now back with the main roster, Niemelainen will hope to earn more ice time from coach Jay Woodcroft and continue his development at the game’s highest level.