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Obscure 2020 NHL Draft Profiles: Tomi Niku, Jon Bell, and Christian Jimenez

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A brief look at some random players who might get picked late in the 2020 draft

2019 NHL Draft - Round 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As I have mentioned in passing in the comments of various EOTP articles, I have been keeping an excel sheet consolidating various draft rankings. At this point, I have 40 different rankings (including six with at least 217, or the full 7 rounds of the draft), accumulating a list of 655 potential draft picks, 570 of which have been ranked in at least one of the 40 lists. I have also been saving links to profiles from several sources, but I noticed a trend — everyone does the top 10, but no one does the bottom 10.

So, I figured why not have some fun. I ran a random number generator three times, ranging from the highest ranked player that I have yet to find a profile for (Maksim Berezkin at 79) to the 655th, in order to present some obscure draft profiles.

#221 - Tomi Niku

Birthplace: Jyväskylä, FIN
Date of birth: October 3, 2001
Shoots: Left
Position: Defence
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 154 lbs.
Team: JYP U20 (U20 SM-sarja)

What jumps off the page?

The first thing is obviously size. At 5’9”, 154 pounds, he will need to fill in a lot to have any chance as an NHL defenceman. There were only seven defencemen in the NHL this season at 5’9” or shorter, and Jared Spurgeon was the lightest at 167 pounds. It is obviously not easy, or common, even as the NHL trends toward shorter, more skilled players.

Niku led JYP U20 defencemen with 36 points in 45 games, significantly more that the second place Kimi Kuusela (24pts), but he only managed three goals. This puts him fifth in the SM-sarja by points and fourth by points per game (with at least 10 games played). He is listed as having a brief chance with the JYP Liiga team, a single game, but it appears he spent the entire 60 minutes on the bench. He also got loaned to KeuPa HT in Mestis for two games, picking up an assist and averaging a respectable 15:30.

Elite Prospects

It is also worth noting that he is on the older end of the first-year-eligible players, having been born October 3, 2001 (the cut-off for the previous draft was September 15 of that year) and that he, at least statistically, showed great improvement over last year, jumping from 12 points in 38 games at the U20 level.

He is expected to return to JYP U20 next season, while probably getting some time with the Liiga side.

Slightly deeper analysis

It is, as you might imagine, rather difficult to find video of the U20 SM-sarja (at least for someone in Canada who does not speak Finnish). Thankfully, there are highlights from the two games he played in Mestis which show a few things.

In his first Mestis game, he first appears in the highlights on a goal against. On the play he stays reasonably well with the forward, Sebastian Sjöholm, skating backward and maintaining the gap, but does not react quite quickly enough when Sjöholm pulls up. Frankly, while he stays in front of his man heading toward the net to cover any rebounds, I don’t think he would have actually prevented Sjöholm from getting there. It is hard to tell because of when the goal happens, but he does not appear to have the strength and/or concentration to ultimately hold off the similarly sized, but significantly older, Sjöholm.

That was about it from his first game, but he was quite prominent in the highlights of his second Mestis game. You can see his lack of strength at work early on, when he stays with the 6’2”, 194-pound Zdenek Sedlak but just gets pushed back when he steps up with a slight hit. Though he does a reasonably good job staying with and closing on Sedlak, the pass still gets through him.

The next time he appears in the highlights, he floats around the blue line before drifting in to support the attack, at one point being the only KeuPa player below the goal line, and does an okay job to keep the puck in. However, he gets tripped up and practically gives the puck right back to the opposition while trying to dangle through two Roki players. Later in the same sequence, he steps up a bit too much, missing a bouncing puck, and is forced to chase back. He does not strike me as necessarily fast, though I think he demonstrates good agility.

His third appearance is, I think, his best. He again drifts in from the point, this time manages to get ahold of the rebound. He pulls it to the left side of the zone, shifting his body and the puck so his back is to the boards, before putting a firm low pass toward the slot that his teammates are unable to convert. He then drifts back into position and recovers the puck from an attempted Roki breakout pass.

He shows up a couple more times, but is not terribly involved in the play, before finally setting up the game-winning goal. It is a fairly simple one for him, receiving the puck at his blue line and passing to Justus Mikkonen on the far side of the opposition blue line while Roki is changing. Mikkonen skates in and scores, giving Niku his only Mestis point so far.

What to expect

I have a feeling I’m going to have to find several different ways of saying “not much” in these profiles, as they will all be lucky to play a single NHL game. Ultimately, Niku is ranked between 173 and 283, appearing in just three rankings. If he does make it as an NHL regular, based on the limited clips, I would expect him to be a mobile offensive-minded defenceman who sometimes struggles in the corners and in front of the net against bigger forwards.

#431 - Jon Bell

Birthplace: St. Cloud, MN, USA
Date of birth: June 22, 2002
Shoots: Left
Position: Defence
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 181 lbs.
Team: St. Cloud Cathedral (USHS-MN)

What jumps off the page?

Much like Niku, Bell is a smaller defenceman at 5’10”. However, that might be where comparisons end. Unlike Niku, he has already bulked up some, reaching 181 pounds. He is also on the younger end of the draft, having just turned 18 on June 22, and would presumably return to his high school team next year for Grade 12 or move to the USHL.

Bell has spent three seasons with St. Cloud Cathedral in Minnesota’s US High School system, during which he has had mixed offensive output with three goals and 11 assists in 24 games. Last year was his best offensive season, 19 points in 17 games, while overall in the three years he had 50 points in 66 games. This past season he was tied for 169th among defencemen by points in Minnesota high schools, and was third or fourth on his team each season.

Elite Prospects

It is worth noting that he put up better offensive numbers in the playoffs and state tournaments to end the year. In six playoff and tournament games, he managed one goal and six assists, though the team also scored at least five goals in five of those games.

Unfortunately for Bell, one of the first things that shows up when researching him is a tumble he took at the introduction to the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament in 2019.

Slightly deeper analysis

I decided to look at his performance in a closer game than the playoff/tournament ones, figuring I could learn more about his play from a 5-3 loss to Moorhead (who were 21-7-1 on the season) than from their 11-1, 8-1, and 11-2 victories over Prairie Centre, Alexandria, and Mankato East/Loyola.

The main takeaway I had was that he plays a steady game. He rarely went in deep offensively, joined the rush, or wired a shot from the point, and he did not appear to get on the ice for any of St. Cloud’s roughly four minutes of power-play time. Meanwhile, he was on the ice for over 90 seconds straight during a second-period penalty kill, despite his team managing multiple clearances.

He clearly plays a cautious game, doing a good job covering for his defence partners when they pushed up. Though his positioning was generally good, he was sometimes a little too cautious, backing away when he could step up to keep the play going. In fact, I only noticed one time when he did join the rush, late in the third when they were down two goals, receiving the puck and making a good quick pass to the slot.

He has good reactions, especially off faceoffs. There were several faceoffs where he was the first on the puck, swatting it away before the opponent had even moved, or grabbing it and taking it behind the net before looking for the outlet pass.

While he wasn’t quite as fast reacting during play, he still did well by picking up loose pucks and covering off attacking players from opposition outlet passes. He was also able to recover from his own mistakes. Early in the second, he failed a pokecheck, letting the puck get past him but he turned well and was able to poke it into the corner. Later that period, he had a similar play where the attacker got the puck past him, but he played the body and prevented the attacker from keeping hold of it.

I hesitate to call him a physical defenceman, but hitting is definitely part of his game, including one very solid hit where he caught the opponent skating around behind the net.

His forechecking was also a strength, helped by his reaction time. He skates fairly well, especially in shifting the puck from side to side while skating backwards and preparing for a pass up the ice, but it was hard to tell as his cautious game gave few chances to see him move at top speed. His pass accuracy could be more consistent, but they were generally strong and low along the ice.

What to expect

If he does make the NHL, his style of play from the game against Moorhead suggests a steady defensive player with a limited offensive upside. Having said that, there were a couple small flashes of offensive ability that make me wonder if he just needs to take more chances, and what might happen if he does.

#240 - Christian Jimenez

Birthplace: Yorktown Heights, NY, USA
Date of birth: March 15, 2002
Shoots: Left
Position: Defence
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 190 lbs.
Team: Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)

What jumps off the page?

Apparently the random number generator likes small defencemen. Jimenez has a March birthday, so he’s neither old nor young for a first-year-eligible, and is similar in size to Bell at 5’10”, 190 pounds. He spent the entire year with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL, leading the team’s defencemen in scoring with seven goals and 21 assists in 42 games, tied for second on the team in points.

Elite Prospects

He was eighth among USHL defencemen in points — highest among rookies — and was named to the USHL First All-Rookie Team for the 2019-20 season. Among under-18 defencemen he was second in goals, assists, and points behind potential 2021 first-rounder, Owen Power.

There are a couple interviews with Jimenez online, including the one at USAHockey.com quoted below, where he talks about trying to simplify his game:

“My assistant coach Mark Abalan, my defensive coach, has really worked with me on efficiency in terms of my skating and my overall game,” Jimenez said. “He always says simple is the best option, especially as a defenceman from this league onward.”

He has committed to Harvard for the 2021-22 season and is expected to return to Sioux City for 2020-21 — whenever that starts.

Slightly deeper analysis

Keeping in mind that Jimenez was a USHL rookie, and that the Musketeers struggled all year (finishing 15th of 16 teams), it is still worth noting that he sometimes stood out for the wrong reasons. In a game against Des Moines, he backed off too much, letting former Sherbrooke and Baie-Comeau forward Yaroslav Alexeev skate in and, by the time Jimenez stepped up, the shot was off and heading into the net.

In the full game I watched against Tri-City in late January, I noticed he has a tendency to stick to his man a bit too much. There were a couple of occasions where he let the puck-carrier get a free shot away as a result. Deciding when to break off coverage to attack the puck is a necessary skill to have for an NHL career.

His positioning is otherwise decent. He works hard in front of the net and is good at staying square to the attackers. I noticed a few occasions where the Musketeers seemed to be running around defensively, so it’s possible that the coaches were trying to play a man-marking style of defence that would lead Jimenez to stay focused on his man, regardless of where the puck was. The second and third Tri-City goals were a direct result of the team’s poor defence, not specifically Jimenez, as they got hemmed in the zone and kept chasing their marks around the zone. Inevitably someone would get free or Sioux City would take a penalty.

Offensively, he is quite good at cross-ice passes on the power play. In a different Des Moines game, he is able to thread the puck perfectly through the four-man ‘box,’ albeit helped by a defender missing a stick. Against Tri-City, he is also able to thread it between some defenders, though it did not result in a goal. His vision in that spot stands out to me.

It is not his only offensive tool, also having good stickhandling and a willingness to skate the puck up and drive to the net.

He has a decent shot, strong and often accurate. With the net empty against Tri-City, he has a couple of good chances before finally stepping up to the top of the circle and wiring a low shot five-hole. And against the USNTDP team, he fires one in from the point.

What to expect

Jimenez is included in four rankings, ranging from 189 to 449, though that is slightly disingenuous as he is ranked at 189 twice and 196 a third time (I use a modified average that removes a prospect’s highest and one lowest ranking; otherwise he would have been lower than 240).

If he makes it as an NHL regular, I imagine it would be mostly as a power-play weapon, drifting between the point and the half-wall spot trying to feed one-timers while threatening to score himself. That is not to say his even-strength play would not be valued, but his power-play tools are what stand out for me.

Niku, Bell, and Jimenez are players you probably weren’t familiar with, and who might not even get drafted. All have promising skills, but nothing that allows then to stand out in a draft class, with hundreds of other players more highly regarded by scouts. If one of them does happen to see dramatic improvement and make it to the NHL one day, the random number generator will look like a genius.