Finnish pair hopes to have the upper hand with Maple Leafs with stellar play at world juniors

EDMONTON—It would seem Maple Leafs prospects Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemelä are inseparable.

They’ve known each other since they were kids. They were drafted five picks apart in the 2020 draft. And Hirvonen is captain of the Finnish entry into the 2022 world junior championship, while Niemelä is an alternate captain.

And one day, they believe, they will play together on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It was awesome to have a good buddy drafted by the same team and hopefully we’ll get to play there together,” said Hirvonen, taken in the second round, 59th overall, in 2020.

“It will be easier to go there because you have a good friend with you,” said Niemelä, standing with Hirvonen in the media centre at Rogers Place.

“It’s not usual to go at the same time with a good friend.”

It’s unclear whether the two will venture to Toronto in September for what would be their first training camp with the Leafs. It’s more likely a year away for the two 20-year-olds who are under contract for one more season each in the Finnish top league — Hirvonen with HIFK Helsinki, Niemelä with Karpat.

But they did venture over earlier in the summer, a week before the other prospects had their development camp. Hirvonen and Niemelä worked out with the likes of John Tavares and Michael Bunting in getting to know the organization and city before returning to Finland to attend their world…

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