It never fails that in every draft there’s a player who falls down the board for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because of some injury or ailment, sometimes where the player is from, but most often it’s because of his size. Aleksi Heponiemi is likely one of those players in this year’s draft.
Despite a smaller frame and lighter build, the Finnish centre is a highly skilled, point-producing player for the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League.
Birthplace: Tampere, Finland
Weight: 147 lbs.
It’s clear right away that Heponiemi is a gifted playmaker based on his point totals in both the WHL and Finnish junior leagues. His size doesn’t hamper his playing style, as he is quick on his skates and able to create space for himself and teammates. His shiftiness makes it hard for defenders to pin him along the boards, and his on-ice awareness lets him pick out his teammates, even when in full flight.
He’s an extremely talented playmaker. With his speed he’s able to get past defenders and use his great vision to create chances for teammates. He holds onto the puck looking for the right play, and with his stickhandling abilities he’s a hard player to defend against in the offensive zone. Even if he holds the play a bit too long, he can easily chip the puck in and use his speed to recover it with regularity.
That’s the other major part of Heponiemi’s game: he’s a relentless forechecker. Despite his small stature, he battles extremely hard in the corners for pucks. It’s his awareness once more that lets him read the plays well, and allows him to pick out his open teammates immediately after a takeaway. Over the course of the year he became relied on more and more, eventually playing on the penalty kill in addition to the power play.
Scouts all agree that he needs to add muscle to his frame in order to fully maximize his potential. It’s not so much the 5’10” frame that’s a hindrance to his odds of sticking at the professional level, but weighing in below 150 pounds is an issue in a league where 230-pound giants freely roam the ice.
In spite of his outstanding offensive numbers, Heponiemi could stand to use his shot more often. He will often pass up a shot on net in order to set up a back-door play or another passing play.
Creative, patient puck distributor that displayed strong vision and excellent passing abilities. Finds open space and moves the puck very quickly.
Heponiemi is undersized, but his lack of size does not have a major impact on his game, as he is a skilled, finesse player.
Future Considerations: 76
Central Scouting Service: 26 (North American Skaters)
Corey Pronman: 27
There’s quite a spread on where Heponiemi is ranked: anywhere from the late first round, to mid-third. The Montreal Canadiens may have multiple chances to draft the WHL rookie of the year.
There are understandably concerns over his size, but based on his production in a league known for being highly physical they are likely overblown. Montreal in the past hasn’t shied away from drafting smaller forwards; look no further than Brendan Gallagher or Charles Hudon in recent years.
It’s more than likely that Heponiemi will transition over to the wing when he reaches the professional level. Depending on how the Habs roster shakes out in the aftermath of the expansion draft, adding a high-scoring talent like this is well worth the potential second-round pick.