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Dec 13The Olympic Kids – prospects that starred on the big stage
Dec 13Can any of the WJC underdogs break through in Buffalo?  
Dec 12A Russian trend – three forwards headed for the first round?
Dec 12Deep Russian squad looks to extend medal streak 
Dec 11The 2018 WJC underdog that could win it all
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December 06, 2017

Aleksi Heponiemi – Poised for success

While much will be made of the seven first-round picks Finland plan to bring to the 2018 World Junior Championships in Buffalo, it is an undersized second-round pick you should be keeping your eyes out for. Generously listed at 5’10” and 150 lbs, Aleksi Heponiemi has never not had to fight off concerns about his size. His skillset has rarely been in question, mind you, just his ability to apply it at an increasingly difficult level of play. So far though, he has silenced his every critic.

Coming off a season in which he scored 86 points in 72 games for Swift Current Broncos (WHL) – the team that drafted him 10th overall in the 2016 CHL import draft – scouts were convinced this young Finn had enough skill to be a first-round pick but, just like others before him, his lack of size dropped him down to Round 2 where the Florida Panthers snagged him with the 40th overall pick.

Cue Heponiemi returning to the WHL this fall for a second season where he was once again paired up on a line with fellow 2017 pick (Arizona Coyotes, 5th round, #128 overall) Tyler Steenburgen of Canada. Now – before the 2016-17 season – Steenburgen had always been known as a gifted goal scorer and Heponiemis playmaking abilities had always been elite, but when coach Emanuel Viveiros put them together, it sparked something. While both players each delivered respectable, point-per-game seasons in 16-17 their offensive output this season has been so explosive it has the Broncos fans dreaming of their first WHL championship in over two decades.

Currently occupying the top two spots in the WHL scoring race and averaging over two points per game, Heponiemi and Steenburgen are single-handedly putting to rest the WHL’s reputation as a more defensively oriented, lower scoring league than its CHL siblings; the OHL & the QMJHL.

As far as the Finnish WJC roster goes, Heponiemi hasn’t always been considered a “lock” to make the team and even now that he has (making the preliminary roster is a close as it gets to a sure thing), there is no guarantee he will see time among the top-six forwards. Players like Kristian Vesalainen, Eeli Tolvanen, Janne Kuokkanen and Rasmus Kupari have all spent time in major leagues playing professional hockey while Heponiemi has still only excelled at the junior level. Then again, let us not forget that the junior level is where the WJC is actually played.

Put Heponiemi on a line with a player like Tolvanen who can fill the same role as Steenburgen does for the Broncos and you can bet there’d be sparks flying within the first few shifts.

In the end, it’ll certainly be interesting to see how the WHL superstar is utilized on a stacked Finnish roster but regardless of what role he will serve, you can be sure that Aleksi Heponiemi will be looking to prove his critics wrong once more.

FINLAND’S PRELIMINARY WJC ROSTER

GOALIES
Niilo Halonen, HIFK
Lassi Lehtinen, Lukko
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, HPK

DEFENSEMEN
Miro Heiskanen, HIFK
Henri Jokiharju, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Olli Juolevi, TPS
Kasper Kotkansalo, Boston University (NCAA)
Roope Laavainen, HPK
Eemeli Räsänen, Kingston Frontenacs
Robin Salo, Sport
Urho Vaakanainen, SaiPa
Juuso Välimäki, Tri-City Americans

FORWARDS
Aleksi Heponiemi, Swift Current Broncos
Joni Ikonen, KalPa
Jere Innala, HPK
Juha Jääskä, HIFK
Otto Koivula, Ilves
Joona Koppanen, Ilves
Janne Kuokkanen, Carolina Hurricanes
Rasmus Kupari, Kärpät
Eetu Luostarinen, KalPa
Sami Moilanen, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Markus Nurmi, TPS
Aapeli Räsänen, Boston College (NCAA)
Eeli Tolvanen, Jokerit
Jerry Turkulainen, JYP
Eetu Tuulola, HPK
Kristian Vesalainen, HPK

Hampus Duvefelt



13 December, 2017

The Olympic Kids – prospects that starred on the big stage

The other day, we were looking at some of the players that might turn WJC success into a chance to compete at the Olympics in South Korea in February. If player...

13 December, 2017

Can any of the WJC underdogs break through in Buffalo?  

It?s known who the Big 5 at the World Juniors are, as Canada, the United States, Sweden, Russia, and Finland historically form the top half of the tournament. B...

12 December, 2017

A Russian trend – three forwards headed for the first round?

It has been almost a decade since it happened the last time. To be specific, the year was 2010 and the players were Alexander Burmistrov, Vladimir Tarasenko and...

12 December, 2017

Deep Russian squad looks to extend medal streak 

Though Russia hasn?t had many household names on their World Junior rosters recently, they?ve seen major success at the tournament.  Last year, Russia went 2-2 ...

11 December, 2017

The 2018 WJC underdog that could win it all

Everyone loves an underdog. Be it professional sports, fictional stories or real life tales ? there are few things quite as stirring as watching an unlikely her...

11 December, 2017

The World Junior Championships – an audition for the Olympics

There will be more than medals at stake during the World Juniors in Buffalo later this month. The NHL’s decision to stop their players from participating ...

10 December, 2017

Sweden’s elite talent looks to end cycle of WJC mediocrity

 Sweden has had an underwhelming run at the World Juniors the last few years. But this year, things could change.  In each of the past three tournaments, Sweden...

10 December, 2017

Lukas Vejdemo – taking the patient route to the NHL

It’s a hockey debate that always seem to be raging in Sweden. On one hand, you have the people that feel it’s better for a prospect to stay on home ...

09 December, 2017

Nicklas Lidström on Rasmus Dahlin: “He looks like Brian Leetch”

There’s been no shortage of homages for Rasmus Dahlin this season. The projected first overall pick in the 2018 NHL entry draft has taken the hockey world...

09 December, 2017

Where are they now? – Three forgotten WJC stars

Whenever you come across a story entitled ?where are they now?, it is usually a foregone conclusion that the story will feature individuals who at one time perf...

08 December, 2017

Breaking down Team Canada’s roster snubs

On Wednesday, Canada announced its preliminary roster for the World Junior Hockey tournament via an extravagant ceremony in St. Catharines, Ontario. For the 32 ...

08 December, 2017

Finland on the rebound after disastrous showing at last year’s WJC 

It was nothing short of a disaster for Finland at last year?s World Juniors in Toronto and Montreal.  The Finns won just one game in the group stage and finishe...

07 December, 2017

Away from the spotlight

In the quaint little ski resort of Méribel, nestled deep in the French Alps, hockey isn?t exactly on the everyday agenda. Replace skates with skis and hockey ti...

07 December, 2017

Why Adam Boqvist wasn’t picked for the Swedish WJC camp

An abundance of riches? Well, Team Sweden will certainly have some quality on the backend at this year’s WJC in Buffalo. So much so that coach Tomas Monté...

07 December, 2017

Sabres faithful may get chance to see Mittelstadt shine

Drafted eighth in the first round this past June by the Buffalo Sabres, it?s looking more and more likely that Minnesota native Casey Mittelstadt has a rare opp...