SUNRISE, Fla. – One of the Florida Panthers’ top prospects still striving to reach his potential is being sent overseas to work on his game.
Panthers youngster Aleksi Heponiemi has been loaned to Sweden’s Modo Hockey club, which is part of HockeyAllsvenskan, the country’s second-tier league.
The move was announced by Modo Hockey on Sunday.
Heponiemi, 21, was Florida’s second round pick (40th overall) in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He is in the first year of his entry level contract, which runs through the 2021-22 season.
Hepo’s first year under contract with the Panthers was spent with the Springfield Thunderbirds, Florida’s American Hockey League affiliate last season.
In 49 games with Springfield, Heponiemi logged 14 points (3-11-14) while mostly bouncing around the middle-six of the forward group.
The undersized center, checking in at 5-foot-10, 148 pounds, struggled during his first pro season in North America after having a very successful campaign the year before for Karpat in the Finnish Elite League, Liiga.
Considered among the top professional leagues in the world, Heponiemi’s success in Liiga, to the tune of 46 points (16-30-46) in 50 games, had some thinking that he would contend for an NHL job during his first training camp with the Panthers last fall.
That concept was quickly put to bed as the then-20-year-old didn’t show much during camp and was among some of the first youngsters sent down to the AHL club.
According to Heponiemi, who spoke to Modo’s official website after the signing, the plan is to return to South Florida for training camp later this year.
“I had a tough first season in the AHL, where I needed time to develop for that type of game,” said Heponiemi, in comments translated to English. “Now the situation is as it is in the whole world, where no one really knows what will happen. I am ready for Modo Hockey, but if there is a camp, and a season in the AHL, we will see when the time comes.”
Modo plays 21 games in September and October, which is about 40 percent of the team’s HockeyAllsvenskan schedule.
Heponiemi is expected to join Modo, which plays out of Ornskoldsvik, a small town on Sweden’s east coast, sometime next week. The expectation is that Hepo will play in a featured role and perhaps gain some confidence ahead of his second season in North America.
He’ll be playing under former NHL veteran Ville Nieminen, a well-known Finnish forward who skated in 747 combined games between the NHL and Liiga.
Like many young Finns, Heponiemi is quite familiar with the career and accolades of Nieminen and expressed excitement in playing for him.
Modo’s first game of the 2020-21 season is on Sept. 11 against AIK in Stockholm. The club’s home opener comes five days later against Sodertalje SK.