The Florida Panthers were well represented at the World Juniors this year, but their prospects went on a tear and produced like never before.
More specifically, the Florida Panthers had three prospects in the tournament this year: Owen Tippett (Canada), Aleksi Heponiemi (Finland), and Grigori Denisenko (Russia).
Starting with the first one who was knocked out, forward Owen Tippett’s tournament was cut short after their defeat to the Finns in the quarterfinals.
He and his nation may not have gone as far as they would’ve liked, but no one can argue that Tippett was one of Canada’s best forwards at the tournament this year.
In 5 games played, Tippett recorded 2G & 2A, falling just one point shy of hitting the point-per-game mark.
His play, unlike the past, has changed for the better and fans started to see a more complete game from Tippett all around.
He pitched in defensively when needed and showcased his more responsible side on the defensive end. In addition, he also pulled off this slick move against the Danes, which even I can’t get enough of.
Again, considering this was Tippett’s first and last WJ tournament, the end result will remain disappointing. But even so, Tippett walked off on a fairly high note (personally) on a not-so-great Canadian team.
Next up is Russian sniper Grigori Denisenko, who the Panthers drafted last year with the 15th pick. His year over in Russia started off pretty rough, as the youngster tallied an underwhelming line of 3 points (3 goals) in 15 games with Lokomotiv in the KHL.
However, the World Juniors was quite the opposite. The 18-year-old put up 4G, 5A, for 9 points in 7 games played, leading his nation to a bronze medal finish.
Denisenko concluded as the tournament’s leading scorer, selected as a finalist for the MVP. Unfortunately, he missed out on the accolade as American forward Ryan Poehling took home the trophy; but if you ask me, Denisenko was the real MVP in this year’s games.
You saw a side to his game that you’ve never really seen before. His offense was second to none and was almost impossible to stop.
As you can see here, this was one of many plays where Denisenko used his lethal release to beat goaltenders from an odd angle:
And, in case you wanted to see more, here’s another play where Denisenko gets into the wheelhouse and snipes one home to even up the game:
As saw above, those were just a couple of plays illustrating his dominant performance at the World Juniors this year. His tournament lead in points came as a surprise to many, but it offers a sign of good things to come for the youngster in the near future.
If Denisenko can build on his play from the Worlds this year, then the sky is truly his limit. The Panthers are gaining another lethal sniper which they can add to their already stocked arsenal.
Last but not least, I present to you the gold medal winner… Aleksi Heponiemi. Heponiemi, like Denisenko, had a fantastic tournament himself.
Heponiemi put together a solid run of 3G, 6A, for 9 points in 9 games played. He showcased his elite playmaking abilities, which scouts have noted in the past during his draft year.
He closed out the tournament as the 2nd ranked player in points, just one rank below his future NHL teammate in Grigori Denisenko. He was also Finland’s most dominant player, leading them not only in points but also with assists.
While Hepo is primarily known for his crafty playmaking skills, he’s also shown that he has a nose for goal and knows where to be at the right time.
You’re in for a treat! Here’s one more against a tougher opponent:
As you saw, the Panthers were well represented at the Juniors this year and were spoiled with the amount of production they got out of their three.
Better yet, it’s scary to think that both Tippett and Heponiemi will both likely play with the Panthers next year, as they take that next big step in their young, yet fruitful careers.
Denisenko, on the other hand, will spend the next couple of years in Russia to finish out his contract. But once he hits the NHL ice, the Florida Panthers could very well get a better and more complete version of Alexander Semin.
The future is certainly bright in South Florida, but it’s up to the Panthers to develop these three properly and turn them into quality hockey players down the road from now.