The Florida Panthers have inked Aleksi Heponiemi to a one-year, two-way contract extension for the 2022-23 season. CapFriendly reports that the deal will be worth $750K at the NHL level, $100K at the AHL level, and comes with a minor league guarantee of $175K. The young forward was scheduled for restricted free agency but is still not eligible for salary arbitration.
Heponiemi, 23, was the 40th overall selection in 2017 and has had an interesting route to the NHL. The Tampere, Finland native was picked out of the WHL, where he had come over to play for the Swift Current Broncos, and absolutely dominated that league after going back for his draft+1 season. With 118 points in 57 games (and another 30 in 26 postseason matches) he helped the Broncos win the WHL championship, taking home the CHL Sportsman of the Year award in the process.
The following season he returned to Finland to play at the professional level, and had no problem carrying over his offense to Liiga play. In 50 games for Karpat he scored 16 goals and 46 points, while also attending the World Juniors and winning gold. The next year was spent in the AHL with the Springfield Thunderbirds, before COVID restrictions kept the AHL from playing through the early part of 2020-21. That led to a loan to Sweden where he played for MODO, scoring nearly a point-per-game through the first half.
A recall to North America led to his NHL debut but he wouldn’t stay at that level. In fact, this past season he once again was limited to the AHL–this time scoring 39 points in 56 games for the Charlotte Checkers.
Now, it’s time for Heponiemi to try and make the Panthers on a full-time basis. No longer waiver-exempt he will be risked to the rest of the league if they try to send him to the minor leagues, giving him at least a bit of a head start over some other young prospects. That doesn’t guarantee him a spot though, especially on a team that already has plenty of offensive weapons and might prefer more physical players in the bottom-six.