As if a world junior final for the ages wasn’t enough, we also had CHL trade deadlines this week. It felt like a particularly monumental one, too, with teams in all three circuits loading up for what will inevitably be disappointment for some, but far-off draft picks for all (seriously, Kitchener got a conditional second-rounder in 2025 in the Jeremy Bracco package – not a joke). The OHL West is gonna be gunfight with Windsor, Erie and London all duking it out, with many other interesting races to watch elsewhere. The USHL’s Top Prospects Game also runs tonight. Eeli Tolvanen will miss it due to injury, but there’s still a lot of talent to watch (and anyone can catch it online for free!). Let’s get down to business here.
Miro Heiskanen, D – HIFK (Fin.): This year has been an unqualified success for Heiskanen, a blueliner to watch for the 2017 draft. OK, there’s one qualification: he played for Finland’s disappointing entry at the world juniors in Montreal. But Heiskanen was actually pretty good himself, making smart plays with the puck and demonstrating his mobility from the back end.
Back home in Finland, Heiskanen has been getting solid minutes for HIFK, one of the better teams in the Liiga.
“I like playing more,” Heiskanen said. “It’s easier if I play more and get a rhythm.”
This is Heiskanen’s first year playing against men and with seven points through 25 games, he certainly doesn’t seem to be intimidated. Heiskanen is a mid-sized defender, but checks off a lot of boxes with the skills he possesses. And when it comes to advice, he can always turn to teammate and long-time NHL goalie Niklas Backstrom.
“It’s so nice because he gives good tips and helps so much from the goal,” Heiskanen said. “He tells some stories about the NHL, but I don’t ask too much.”
Perhaps it’s because Heiskanen can merely find out for himself in a couple years. Undoubtedly he’ll be a hot commodity in this summer’s CHL import draft, but Heiskanen will face that compelling dilemma of whether to learn the North American game in major junior, or continue competing against older, stronger competition back home.
“I think it’s better if I play in Finland against men,” he said. “But I’m not sure yet.”
A big fan of Erik Karlsson and Duncan Keith, Heiskanen already made one switch when he left his hometown Espoo program for HIFK in Helsinki. With his assets, HIFK certainly won’t be his last stop, either.
In the Pipeline
Pierre-Luc Dubois, C (Columbus): It’s been an iffy year for Dubois and that includes his performance for Canada at the world juniors. But the third overall pick is getting a new start thanks to a trade and in his first game with Blainville-Boisbriand, Dubois rang up three points.
Julien Gauthier, RW (Carolina): ‘Goat’ was a beast at the world juniors for Canada, with his trademark goal-scoring ability on full display. A trade in the ‘Q’ landed the power forward in Saint John, where his size and offense add another dimension to a dangerous Sea Dogs team.
Jeremy Bracco, RW (Toronto): What should excite Leafs fans the most about Bracco is how much more responsible he has looked lately. We know he can dazzle offensively, but a more rounded player will be a boon for OHL Windsor, which just acquired the right winger from Kitchener.
Anthony Cirelli, C (Tampa Bay): A crucial part of Canada’s success at the world juniors, Cirelli was traded to OHL Erie, where he may end up meeting fellow Bolts pick Mitchell Stephens – the newest London Knight. Cirelli’s energy and clutch play could put the Otters over the top.
Troy Terry, C (Anaheim): What does America’s newest hero do for a homecoming? He tears apart Arizona State for five points in a 6-1 thrashing. The Denver sophomore won’t sneak up on anyone now, but his cycle game and offensive touch may be too good to stop anyway.
2017 Draft Stars
Nikita Popugaev, LW – Prince George Cougars (WHL): Formerly a Moose Jaw Warrior, Popugaev will now be joined in B.C. by Chicago pick Radovan Bondra, giving the Cougars a ton of size. Popugaev is 6-foot-5 and dominates when he has the puck – the kid has 53 points through 42 games this season.
Jonah Gadjovich, LW – Owen Sound Attack (OHL): After a slow start, Gadjovich has really turned it on for Owen Sound. The power forward notched a hat trick the other night, which included a driving shorthanded marker and he is now operating at a point-per-game clip.
Zach Solow, C – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL): Solow was a standout for the gold-medal Americans at the World Jr. A Challenge and he’ll get another chance to shine at the USHL Top Prospects Game tonight. The Northeastern commit leads the league in scoring and has a nice bag of offensive tricks at his disposal.
Alexei Lipanov, C – MVD Balashikha (Rus.): I haven’t had a chance to write about Lipanov since the World Jr. A Challenge happened in Alberta, but he was awesome there. Not only did he center a potent line with 2018 draft titan Andrei Svechnikov, but Lipanov was also a dogged penalty-killer and all-details player for Russia.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, G – HPK (Fin.): Coming off a strong Five Nations performance in Switzerland that saw him surrender just one even-strength goal in two games, Luukkonen is back in the swing of things after pneumonia killed the start of his season. A big netminder who plays with calm, Luukkonen has also been great in Finland’s junior league.