While the Florida Panthers may not have the best prospect farm in the NHL, they do have some interesting prospects. Among those is Finnish forward Aleksi Heponiemi, who at 19-years-old is lighting up the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos.
For many years, the Florida Panthers have struggled at drafting in the later rounds. While the Cats often hit on early picks, their later rounds are filled with more swings and misses. While the Panthers have had some hits with Denis Malgin and MacKenzie Weegar for instance, their list of misses run strong and the list is certainly a long one.
However, in 2017, the Cats may have changed their fortune in the early second round when they picked center Aleksi Heponiemi, who was just adjusting to the North American game.
Frankly, Heponiemi was a relatively underrated and undercooked prospect. It’s hard to predict and scout European prospects for a variety of reasons that include the pace and style of the game; thus, it’s unsurprising that so many European skaters fail, especially when they are relatively undersized like Heponiemi.
Although, Heponiemi had all the skills to process to the North American game. He’s a fantastic playmaker who is better when his team is in the offensive zone. He is hard to get the puck off of, despite his small stature, and has amazing speed with the puck on his stick.
This was widely agreed upon by multiple draft writers, who had a lot of good to say about the young center before he was drafted. As Marshall MacKinder put it:
“Undersized centreman Aleksi Heponiemi is at his best when he is making plays and keeping possession of the puck in the offensive zone. A fantastic playmaker who is a wizard with the puck on his stick. Makes tape-to-tape passes and does a great job of hitting his target in motion. Very difficult to defend and defenders back off because they know he will end up passing the puck.”
Despite the good praise by many, he was underrated by the same writers. TSN’s Bob McKenzie had Heponiemi ranked 70th in his mid-season rankings and the Hockey News had Heponiemi ranked 52nd in their final rankings.
Aleksi has proven these writers wrong. In his second season with the Swift Current Broncos, the Finn took the WHL by storm and turned the eyes of many hockey reporters. In 57 WHL games, Heponiemi potted 118 points (28G, 90A), which was ranked second on the Swift Current Broncos. His 90 assists led the league, despite missing a good chunk of the season.
While this season was a huge jump in Heponiemi’s development, Aleksi is still a few seasons away from competing for a spot on the Florida Panthers. Since Heponiemi has only played 2 season in North America, he will need to adjust further with his game before making the jump into the big leagues.
Should Heponiemi make the NHL with the Florida Panthers, his spot in the lineup will be up for much debate. While he has the talent and ability to play on any of the top 9 spots, it’s unlikely to see him land a role on the top line.
Aleksi could play a similar role as Denis Malgin, who is also undersized and has a similar frame to Heponiemi. If the lines from the final months of the 2017-18 campaign remain the same, Aleksi’s playmaking ability would allow Jonathan Huberdeau to play a different role and would likely get the most out of Vincent Trocheck’s scoring.
Another option for Heponiemi would be with fellow Finnish skater Henrik Borgstrom, who made his NHL debut this season. Borgstrom showed offensive flashes and the ability to get the puck to the net, and with Heponiemi by his side, there is a possibility that Borgstrom could reach near 30 goals every season.