Darwin Knelsen

Aleksi Heponiemi and Emil Oksanen continue exodus from WHL to Finland

Just a couple weeks after Seattle Thunderbirds forward Sami Moilanen skipped out on his 19-year-old season in the WHL to play professionally in his home country of Finland, Swift Current Broncos winger Aleski Hepoiniemi and Regina Pats forward Emil Oksanen followed his path back to Suomi.

It was announced on Monday that Heponiemi had signed with Oulun Karpat of the Finnish Liiga.

Karpat finished first in Liiga this past season with a record of 33 wins 11 losses and 16 ties. The team would go on to win the Liiga Championship, defeating Tappara four games to two.

Heponiemi was named the WHL and CHL most sportsmanlike player for the 2017-18 season. He scored 28 goals and added 90 assists to go with just 28 penalty minutes in 57 regular season games. He helped lead the Swift Current Broncos to the Ed Chenyoweth Cup as WHL Champions this spring. He added five goals and 25 assists in the 26 games it took the Broncos to claim the league title.

Heponiemi is a second round draft pick of the Florida Panthers. Last week, Broncos play-by-play broadcaster Shawn Mullin told WHL Unfiltered that Hepoiniemi was eligible to play in the AHL as a 19-year-old were he signed by Florida. Instead he goes to his home country and will play there.

Artyom Minulin is the other import the Broncos have eligible to return. He is an overage as well though and with the Broncos likely getting younger I would not expect him to come back to the WHL as both an overage player and import. The Broncos will likely take two players in the import draft.

Then on Wednesday it was announced that Regina Pats forward Emil Oksanen had signed to play with SaiPa of Liiga. This was not a surprise as Oksanen was born in 1998 and was one of many possible returning overage players for the Pats. Considering this season will being about a retooling for Regina, it would not make a lot of sense to have Oksanen take up both an import and an overage spot.

He was taken with the 120th overall pick in last June’s CHL Import Draft and had a solid one-year run with the Pats. He scored 16 goals and added 32 assists for 48 points in 58 games in the regular season. Then in the Pats seven-game series, he had two goals and two assists. In the Memorial Cup, Oksanen had one assist in five games while playing on a line with Matt Bradley and Austin Pratt.

Also listed on the SaiPa roster is an Ahti Oksanen.

Considering that they have the last name and are from the same hometown of Kirkkonummi, it seems fairly easy to assume that they are related and perhaps brothers.

SaiPa has been around since 1948. They went 32-20-8-0 in 2017-18 and finished seventh in SM-liiga.

Oksanen was listed at different points this season as a possible draft pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, but his signing to play professionally in Finland seems to hint towards him not expecting to be taken in June.

With Libor Hajek being the other import for the Pats and him being signed by Tampa Bay and not likely to return as an overage, the Pats will likely pick twice in the CHL Import Draft in late June.


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