IF the NFL can award the 2014 Super Bowl to a cold weather venue, then the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders can make a trade. The Blueshirts acquired 19-year0old defenseman Jyri Niemi from the islanders in exchange for a 2010 sixth round draft pick. The trade is the first one between the two New York teams since November 14, 1972 when the Rangers sent RW Ron Stewart to the Islanders for cash.

The 6-foot-3 and 210-pound blueliner was the Islanders third round draft pick (72nd overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft (three spots ahead of Rangers third rounder Evgeny Grachev). The Islanders were forced to deal Niemi because they were unable to sign him and would have lost all rights to him as of June 1. Perhaps the Islanders were concerned about signability because Niemi was a second round selection of SKA St. Petersburg in the 2009 KHL Junior Draft

Niemi has signed an entry level contract with the Rangers and is expected to participate in the Rangers’ annual Prospect Development Camp that will follow this year’s Draft.

Back in 2008, NHL’s Central Scouting rated Niemi as the 25th best North American skater.

Central Scouting’s Director E.J. McGuire said of Niemi, “Jyri is adjusting well to the North American game. 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 flare to his game and is an entertaining player to watch.”

McGuire continued his assessment of the Hameenkyro, Finland native, “More dependability in the defensive zone will guarantee that he projects into a number three or four defenseman in the League, with the potential to be a one-two defenseman.”

Niemi, who turns 20 on June 15, spent the last three seasons playing with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. The defenseman has battled various injuries that limited him to 159 games (29 goals and 66 assists) in Junior career. During his draft season of 2007-2008, Niemi battled wrist and foot issues and eventually has hip surgery – which might have caused him to drop into the third round.

While Niemi might have problems with the injury bug, he has no problem showing off a blistering slapshot. He won the hardest shot competition at the 2008 CHL Prospect Game (97 mph). Prior to joining Saskatoon, Niemi played for HPK Hameenlinna in Finland’s Junior League.

He is no stranger to international hockey as he has represented Finland in various international tournaments including captaining Finland in the U-20 World Junior Championships.

The International Scouting Service (ISS) rated him as the 65th best player. Here is what they wrote about him in their 2008 Draft Preview.

“Niemi is an offensively gifted d-man who has a canon for a shot. He put up good numbers for Saskatoon and moves the puck well. He is a power play specialist but is improving in 5 on 5 play as well. Players are starting to shy away from getting in to the path of his slap shot that has become even more accurate. Needs to add some toughness to his play and consistency in the d-zone. His passing ability is improving as well.”
The youngster still has some work to do on the defensive end, but he does have a bit of an excuse. Much like Rangers rookie defenseman Matt Gilroy, Niemi began his career as a forward before being shifted to defense – a switch that was explained in his Central Scouting report.

“Four years ago, my coach told me to be a defenseman because I was big, could skate backwards and forwards – he told me that I’m a new defenseman. As I heard it and left the rink, I thought, ‘no way’.”

The official New York Rangers press release included the following statement from their newest blueliner.

“This has been a great day for me,” Niemi said in a phone interview from Finland on Tuesday night. “This is something that I’ve been looking forward to for years — to get a chance to be part of an NHL organization, and I couldn’t be more happy right now. I’m just looking forward to joining the team and meeting all the guys.”

While one defenseman joins the Rangers organization, another one is departing after one year. Finnish blueliner Ilkka Heikkinen signed with HC Sibir Novosibirsk of the KHL. Reports say the Rangers were offering a two-way contract, but Heikkinen had expressed his desire to return to Europe rather than spend another season in the AHL.

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