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Nation Network 2017 Prospect Profile: #18 – Aleksi Heponiemi

Aleksi Heponiemi came over from Finland this season after being selected in CHL Import Draft and quickly made his presence felt. Tha presence is far from ominous – Heponiemi is a noticeably undersized player – but even pro scouts can’t help but be swayed by the skill that he displays on the ice. Silky hands and high level intelligence and awareness make Heponiemi one of this draft’s top playmakers.

Once again, we’ve got Heponiemi higher than a lot of other lists do, but we’re comfortable with that, given how he has already shown the ability to out-think and out-skill defenders despite an obvious size disadvantage. To play pro hockey, there’s no way around the fact that he’ll need to put on some body weight. But if he can do that, he’s a near lock to be a top six contributor one day. We’ve got Heponiemi at number 18 on our list.

Bio

  • Age: 18 – January 9th, 1999
  • Birthplace: Tampere, FIN
  • Frame: 5’10″ / 149 lbs
  • Position: Centre
  • Handedness: Left
  • Draft Year Team: Swift Current Broncos
  • Accomplishments/Awards: WHL Rookie of the Year (16/17); Jr.A Liiga Champion, Jr.B Sarja Best Forward, Jr.B Sarja First All-Star Team (15-16); Jr.C Sarja Best Player, Jr.C Sarja Best Forward, Jr.C Sarja All-Star Team (14/15)

Stats

Career

2016-17 Season

Adjusted Scoring (SEAL)

Heponiemi displays a scoring distribution that appears to be made for SEAL adjusted scoring. Notice that the per game rates relative to the WHL (middle right graph) follows a near identical pattern to the situational weighting (bottom left) that was based on which point types shown high repeatability and predictability at the NHL level.

Cohort Based (pGPS)

Size is largely what prevents Heponiemi from having a much higher likelihood of success, given that his production alone is in line with some more optimistic predictions. Still, these are decent numbers towards the end of the first round, and there are plenty of great hockey players in his cohort, including Russ Courtnall, Ray Ferraro, and Brendan Gallagher.

Scouts

From Future Considerations:

A highly-skilled forward who plays with a lot of speed and skill…uses his speed to jet down the wing and beat defenders along the outside…is a hard player to contain with his speed and although he isn’t huge he protects the puck well and is able to drive the net from the outside…has all of the offensive tools: great speed, great puck-skills and stick-skills, able to handle the puck at top speed and make plays, protects the puck well, sees the ice well, possesses a quick, accurate wrist shot and is offensively creative….there are times where he holds the puck for too long and should learn to keep it simple, but however he chooses to make plays he usually succeeds in making them…smart to avoid size barriers, but doesn’t shy away from the net front or corners…plays as if he is the energizer bunny on full charge, constantly moving his feet and in a dodgy manner…has top six potential thanks to the intelligence that makes his skill level so effective.

From Corey Pronman of ESPN (Excerpt only – full article behind pay wall):

Heponiemi is a dynamic playmaker. He can use his great skating ability to push the pace and create chances off the rush. He also has the top-level vision to see plays develop from a slower pace and make the difficult feeds. Heponiemi has above-average stick skills, and though he isn’t a very dangerous shooter, overall he’s a dangerous offensive weapon. Detractors will point to his 5-foot-10 frame, and that he isn’t very physical. I think he’s OK defensively, and given his high hockey IQ, I think he’ll find a way to survive.

From Kevin Olexson of McKeen’s Hockey (Excerpt only – full article behind pay wall):

Aleksi Heponiemi is a smaller forward who is highly skilled offensively. He is a great skater who has excelled and has benefitted from the run and gun offensive style of play of the Swift Current Broncos. He needs to add size and strength to his slight frame to be able to help him round out his game. He has also excelled with special teams this year, as having more open ice has allowed him to display his puck skills and abilities. He is more of a playmaking center who plays around the perimeter, and has also played alongside the Broncos’ leader and top player Tyler Steenbergen. Heponiemi has all of the skills necessary to help him get noticed and drafted, but his biggest drawback is his size. Aside from that, he needs to improve his defensive zone play and positioning, but if he adds some size he could develop into a bottom six player at the pro level.

From The Draft Analyst:

Puck wizard with ridiculous hands whose 86 points tied Nico Hischier for most points by a first-year CHL import. He’s an accurate passer who can create scoring chances no matter the situation, and 38 of his 58 assists were primary. Getting stronger should be an off-season priority.

Our Take

Aleksi Heponiemi is an extremely talented Finnish centre that put up highly impressive numbers in his first season in North America. Drafted 10th overall in the 2016 CHL Import Draft, Heponiemi joined the Swift Current Broncos and had an immediate impact. His playmaking is superb and is intelligence and on-ice awareness is among the best available in this draft.

Unfortunately for Heponiemi, he’s a noticeably undersized player, and I don’t just mean vertically. While 5-foot-10 is a more acceptable height in the NHL nowadays for skilled players, the 149 pounds he tipped the scales at at the NHL Combine last weekend is not. No matter how skilled he is at avoiding contact, he’ll need to add some weight before he starts playing professional hockey.

In the WHL however, he gets along just fine. Heponiemi is unusual among undersized players is that he’s a relentless forechecker and loves to get into the corners and behind the net to retrieve pucks. He demonstrates that there is a difference between avoiding contact and avoiding physical areas of the ice, as he uses heightened awareness, positing, and quick maneuvers and edge work to avoid too much physical contact from defenders, while still being involved in deep puck retrieval.

Once he gets the puck (and he usually does get it), it will deftly find its way to teammates streaking towards the net. Heponiemi finds no shortage of ways to get the puck to his linemates in prime scoring positions, but he has the ability to score on his own as well, possessing a quick and accurate wrist shot, though it doesn’t pack much of a punch, which likely stems from an overall lack of size and strength.

Statistically speaking, Heponiemi has an impressive profile. His cohort data is inhibited somewhat by his size, which is fair and to be expected, but he still managed a 36% likelihood of NHL success and an expected production of 45 points per 82 games. In terms of adjusted scoring, Heponiemi sits 12th on our SEAL list, immediately behind Nolan Patrick. He helped in this regard by dynamite even strength production. Against our SEAL database, which includes draft eligible players from the CHL, USHL, NCAA, Extraliga and SHL, Heponiemi has the fourth highest total of 5-on-5 primary points.

The Swift Current Broncos took a higher percentage of goals scored than against when Heponiemi was on the ice this year, earning him a Goals-For percentage of 55.2%, along with a GF%rel of +3.3%, indicating that his team was better off with him than without him. He spent a large portion of the year playing with Tyler Steenbergen, one of this draft’s top available overage players (he’s in his second year of eligibility) and Glenn Gawdin, who will re-enter the draft this season after the St. Louis Blues decided against signing him this year.

It wouldn’t surprise us at all if Heponiemi is available after the first day (and round) of the NHL Draft is concluded. The concerns with his size are perfectly legitimate and NHL teams are still wary of those players. Even in the modern NHL where concerns with height are beginning to diminish, Heponiemi’s weight and body type will still be of a concern. We also believe however that these limitations will be overcome and that Heponiemi will eventually prove to be a very valuable selection, wherever he ends up being taken.

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#56 LUKAS ELVENES #57 JAKE LESCHYSHYN #58 FABIAN ZATTERLUND
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