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Drafted 10th overall in the CHL Import Draft, Finnish centre Aleksi Heponiemi made an immediate impact as a rookie on the Swift Current Broncos. He led all WHL rookies in assists (58) and points (86) and took home the Jim Piggott Trophy as WHL rookie of the year. He added eight points in 14 playoff games, but this simply was not Swift Current’s year. They fell in seven games, in a hard fought second round series against the Regina Pats.
Heponiemi also has international experience. He represented Finland at the 2015-16 World Under 17 Hockey Challenge. He also represented Finland at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka tournament, scoring five points in four games.
Aleksi Heponiemi Scouting Report: 2017 NHL Draft #50
Center — shoots Left
Born January 9th, 1999 — Tampere, Finland
Height 5’10” — Weight 143 [178 cm/65 kg]
Undersized at just 5’10”, and weighing just 143 pounds, Heponiemi certainly faces some issues, even at the junior level. When one looks at the players who have overcome being undersized to really excel in the NHL, they have one thing in common, and that is fantastic skating ability. Heponiemi certainly meets that criteria.
He is very fast, with an excellent first step and acceleration. Defenders must respect Heponiemi’s speed, as he can beat them to the outside, and cut back to the net. He changes speeds very well, which can fool a defender or catch them flat-footed. He is also very elusive in one-on-one situations. Heponiemi has very good agility and edge work, and is able to get past defenders with quick turns and cuts. He is also able to use these skills to make quick movements to change angles, and open up passing lanes. Heponiemi needs to get stronger though, as this would help his balance, and his ability to win battles on the boards.
Heponiemi has outstanding hands. He can make dekes in a phone booth, and is extremely dangerous one-on-one as a result. Heponiemi sees plays developing, and makes smart passes as a result. He is an excellent play maker, who can make tape-to-tape passes through tight openings. He also uses his stickhandling and skating to extend plays, waiting for a teammate to get open. Heponiemi has an accurate wrist shot, with a good release. However, he must work on adding power.
Heponiemi is better in the cycle game than one would expect based on his size. Of course there is room to improve by bulking up. However, he is able to control and protect the puck by having good hockey IQ. He uses his smarts and angles to avoid being hit. When he does get hit, its rarely a clean shot. He is able to roll off of checks, and keep control of the puck.
Heponiemi works hard in his own zone, and tries to backcheck, but his size can cause issues. He is overpowered in battles for loose pucks. He also has issues in containing bigger, stronger forwards around the cycle game. His positioning is generally pretty good, but like many youngsters can still use some refinement.
Projection and Comparison
Heponiemi is a real boom or bust prospect. His offensive skill level is very high, and he could be a top-six forward in the NHL. With his size, he might end up as a winger at the next level instead of centre though. That remains to be seen. In order to be effective in the NHL, he needs to bulk up, and get a lot stronger without losing his speed and agility. He could also stand to play more in heavy traffic areas. Heponiemi also needs a little work on his defensive game. In terms of a stylistic comparison, his game is similar to a centre version of Martin St. Louis, but this is a style comparison only, and not one based on skill.
The following is a compilation of highlights, assembled from Youtube.
Check back tomorrow for the next prospect available on our draft board.