We’re finishing up the players ranked in the 20’s with a tie for the 21st spot! We’ll take the weekend off before returning with the players rank 11-20 on Monday,
No. 21 (tie) | Petra Nieminen
Before her breakout 2019-20 season with Luleå Hockey/MSSK, Petra Nieminen was already considered one of the best young forwards not only in Europe, but in the world. After her play in the 2019 Women’s Worlds and a 55-point season with Luleå, she’s become a player that every hockey fan needs to know about.
Nieminen has tremendous puck skills and is one of the most cerebral players in hockey. Her game is about finesse, skill, and adaptability. She’s proven on Team Finland, Luleå, and Kuortane (Naisten Liiga) that she can tune her game to harmonize with any role she’s asked to fill. She appears to be as comfortable shooting the puck as she is making plays with and without it on her stick.
This is her second time on the list, rising a few spots from last year’s honorable mention.
At the age of 21, Nieminen is already an SDHL champion, an Olympic medalist (bronze), and has a bronze and silver medal with Finland at the IIHF Women’s Worlds. She became a must-watch prospect for Finland after three memorable performances in the U18 Worlds where she scored eight goals and notched eight assists in 15 games. The highlight performance of her U18 career was the 2016 U18 Worlds in St. Catharines, Canada. That year, Nieminen led Finland with four goals and shared the team lead with six points. She also made her senior team debut at the 2016 Worlds in Kamloops, picking up a goal and two assists in six games at the age of 17.
While she was representing Finland on the world stage as a teenager, Nieminen was also honing her skills in the Naisten Liiga, then called SM-Sarja. Expectations were high for Nieminen after she scorched the competition in Naisten Mestis with Tappara — to the tune of 41 points in 19 games — and she did not disappoint.
In three seasons with Team Kuortane Nieminen earned 79 points in 69 games. She led Kuortane in scoring in 2016 and 2017 and was a remarkably consistent scorer. In the 2018 playoffs, Nieminen guided Kuortane to a third place finish with seven goals and eight assists in 15 games.
Ready for a new challenge, Nieminen joined Luleå Hockey/MSSK in 2018-19. In her first season of SDHL hockey she was more or less lost in the shuffle as another cog in the machine on Luleå’s stacked roster.. After scoring 24 points (13 of which were goals) in 34 games in the regular season, Nieminen again took her game to a new level in the postseason. She helped Luleå secure its third title by scoring six goals and earning five assists in 11 playoff games.
At the 2019 Worlds, Nieminen was a central figure for Team Finland’s silver-medal winning team. She scored two goals in seven games, but the only play that anyone remembers or wants to talk about is the goal she scored that was disallowed. In the gold medal game against Team USA, Nieminen potted a loose puck into the empty net after Jenni Hiirikoski made contact with a diving Alex Cavallini, who was hunting a bobbled puck. That disallowed goal remains
Last season, Nieminen became the first forward not named Michelle Karvinen to lead Luleå Hockey/MSSK in scoring. She also finished third in the SDHL in scoring with 55 points in 36 games and had seven goals and an assist in six playoff games before the SDHL playoffs were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nieminen could very well be Luleå Hockey/MSSK’s next great forward, following in the footsteps of Michelle Karvinen.
When Karvinen was out of the lineup with a concussion, Luleå leaned on Nieminen and the Finnish winger didn’t buckle. She rose to the occasion — it seems she has a history of doing that — spearheaded the team’s offense until Karvinen returned. According to Dave MacPherson’s data, her eTOI (estimated ice time) jumped from 18.74 in 2018-19 to 22.69 in 2019-20. Karvinen is only 30, so she has plenty of hockey ahead of her, but if that torch needs to be passed for any reason, Nieminen looks ready to take it.
Even more important than Nieminen’s future in the SDHL is her future with Team Finland. It’s hard to overstate just how integral she is to the future success of the national team. She’s playing like a savvy veteran at 21 and is at the crest of a new wave of talent that is helping the Finns close the gap on Team USA and Team Canada in major tournaments. If you’re a supporter and/or fan of Naisleijonat and are looking for reasons to be excited about the future, her name is at the top of that list.
Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?
In my opinion, being tied at 21st on our T25-U25 is a little low for a player who has accomplished as much as Nieminen has at her age.
The Finn’s resume is already stacked with both individual and team achievements and she is still brimming with potential. In all likelihood, Nieminen “lost points” with voters because she’s a European player who elected not to develop in the U.S. with an NCAA DI program. Generally speaking, North American women’s hockey fans and media members don’t pay nearly enough attention to the Naisten Liiga, the SDHL, and other leagues in Europe and Asia.
She might not have the same level of buzz of Alina Müller, but Nieminen is already one of the best players in the world, let alone one of the best players under 25. We should all expect big things from her in the SDHL and on the world stage for years to come.
No. 21 (tie) | Emily Clark
Last season, Clark played in four Dream Gap Tour stops and various regional games with the PWHPA. She scored at least five goals in those.
With Hockey Canada, she was named to every roster possible this season - the Four Nations makeup Pittsburgh series, all five games of the Rivalry Series, and the eventually cancelled World Championships. She shined in Pittsburgh, securing Canada’s sweep with a hat trick in the second game.
Previous, the Canadian was almost just barely a point per game forward at Wisconsin, finishing her career as a Badger after the 2018-19 season with 146 points in 147 games. It really doesn’t get much closer than that! Her college career proved she’s a dynamic player who can step up and score but also play a supporting role as she did in her senior season when Wisconsin won the National Championship.
Internationally, she’s won two U18 World gold medals, three senior silver and one bronze medals at senior Worlds, and an Olympic silver medal.
Given that Clark was named the 2020 Worlds Roster, I’d wager a guess we’ll keep seeing her on Team Canada. She’s a versatile player with good vision, even if her stat lines are a little lower than in college. With the PWHPA, she’ll be able to spend more time playing with National Team players and I think that will only benefit her growth on the international stage.
Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?
In my opinion, this is probably too low. The oddity of the season definitely did not help her. With no stats available from PWHPA games and limited national team games, it can be tough to look back on a player’s year and then rank them against others who have more data available. She’s probably closer to where she was ranked last year in the mid-teens.
No. 23 | Jincy Dunne
Dunne just wrapped up an illustrious career at Ohio State, helping the Buckeyes go out on top of the WCHA with a thrilling championship win at the Final Faceoff this year.
It would probably be quicker if I just listed the awards that Dunne did not win during her time at OSU. She was the 2020 Female Athlete of the Year at the school and also was awarded the Big 10 Medal of Honor. She won back-to-back WCHA Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2019 and 2020 and earned a spot on the All-WCHA First Team three years in a row. After being named a Second Team All-American in 2018, she followed it up with back-to-back First Team All-American honors to close out her career—the first Buckeye player to ever earn that distinction twice.
Dunne spent a pretty significant amount of time with the U.S. senior national team when she was just a teenager—she was centralized with the team prior to the 2014 Olympics and was one of the final cuts, at just 15 years old. Despite missing a full year at the beginning of her college career due to a concussion, she’s since grown into the reliable, dynamic defender she showed she could be very early on.
She turned in stellar performances at both ends for the Buckeyes, leading the D in scoring with 31 points as well as blocked shots with 78. She also led her team in power-play points with 11 (one goal, 10 assists). Dunne logged heavy-duty minutes throughout her entire collegiate career and displayed very good vision and play-making abilities, helping the Buckeyes control play in all three zones—just what you want in a high-profile defender at the next level.
Dunne was most recently at the 2019 USA Hockey Winter Training Camp, and with her skillset and poise, she has a good chance to become a difference-maker once again at the international level.
Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?
At this juncture, this ranking feels about right for Dunne. She’s an established player who is clearly one of the top defensive prospects in the game. This is also her first time on TIG’s T25U25 list. After dominating her college career, all that’s ahead for Dunne is to prove she can make just as much of an impact at the pro and international levels—and there’s lots of reasons to believe she will.