2016-17 Team: Swift Current Broncos (#20)
Date of Birth: January 9, 1999
Place of Birth: Tampere, Finland
Ht: 5’10” Wt: 143 lbs
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2017 first-year eligible
- THW (Pike’s Picks): 53rd (final)
- Future Considerations: 76th (final)
- ISS: not ranked (May)
- Bob McKenzie: 70th (Mid-season)
- Craig Button: 27th (final)
- The Hockey News: 50th (final)
It’s always tough to project how quickly skilled Europeans will take to the North American style of game. It’s even tougher to project how they’ll do when they’re a tad under-sized. Finnish forward Aleski Heponiemi came over from the junior club Ilves in the Canadian Hockey League’s Import Draft. Given that he wasn’t playing pro hockey in Europe, as many top prospects do, many were curious about how he’d adapt to the style of the Western Hockey League and if he could carve out a niche with the Swift Current Broncos.
Heponiemi didn’t just adapt, he thrived. Despite being thrown into what are basically the deep waters of major junior hockey, he managed to adapt extremely quickly and rather than merely survive in the land of gigantic physical defensemen, he figured out ways to put up a ton of points. He scored at over a point-per-game basis with 28 goals and 86 points in 72 games, winning the WHL’s rookie scoring title and finishing 16th in points in the entire WHL. All that while being a 140-pound Finnish rookie, dealing with playing on the smaller North American ice and living in a brand-new continent. It’s probably safe to say that the Finn exceeded expectations.
Here’s where the challenge lies for scouts and NHL clubs trying to figure out Heponiemi’s potential: he has one season in North America under his belt and was excellent. Is it a one-off, his actual level, or something that he’ll build off of next season? He’s not a big player, but he’s tall and skinny and has a frame that can potentially fill out with some additional muscle. If he can beef up a bit without losing his speed, skill and ability to evade defenders in traffic, he could become a very effective pro. If not, there’s still a decent chance that his skill alone could project to a higher level. The more he can bulk up, the better his chances become.
NHL Draft Projection
Heponiemi has appeared in a lot of different places in recent draft rankings. Most likely he’ll go somewhere in the second or third rounds, but it’s hard to project precisely when.
“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.” – Marshall MacKinder, Hockey Now.
- Good on-ice vision
- Effective puck distributor
- Elusive, able to avoid contact fairly easily
- Underrated defensive player, smart instincts away from the puck
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Needs to fill out a bit physically
- Relies on playing on the perimeter of the offensive zone
- Fairly dependent on generating offense on the power play
Heponiemi projects as a middle six forward at the NHL level, potentially in the style of Paul Byron or Stephen Gionta.
Risk – 2/5, Reward – 4/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offense 8.0/10, Defense 7.5/10
Heponemi has represented Finland at the World Under-17 Challenge and the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
He was the WHL’s Rookie of the Year for 2016-17.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.