We recently took a look at the Florida Panthers 2018 NHL Entry Draft class, now let’s check back in with the five-man Class of 2017 and see how they did in year two since they were selected by the Cats in Chicago.
Owen Tippett (First Round - 10th overall)
After putting up 75 points with the Mississauga Steelheads in both 2016-17 and 2017-18, Tippett basically produced the same number in 2018-19, finishing with 74 points (33G/41A) in 54 games split between the Steelheads and the Saginaw Spirit. His numbers following the trade to Saginaw (41 points in 31 games) slipped ever so slightly; that’s an average of 1.32 points per game compared to 1.43 in Mississauga. His total of 41 assists was a career-high in the OHL.
Tippett turned in a fine postseason, finishing with 11 goals and 22 points as the Spirit advanced to the Western Conference final, where they were edged by eventual league champions Guelph in seven games. The 11 goals were good for fifth in league while the 22 points were eighth-best.
The long playoff run prevented Tippett from getting in any AHL games with the Springfield Thunderbirds like he did the year prior, however, he did finally earn a nod on Canada’s entry at the World Junior Championship, where he produced two goals and two assists in five games.
All in all a pretty solid season of development, although I think the expectation was that Tippett would have been a little more offensively dominant in his fourth season of Junior. That said, one stat that saw much improvement was his plus/minus rating which went from +1 in 2017-18 to +28 this season. Perhaps he was following instructions to round out his all-around game and there was less concentration of piling up offensive numbers.
Tippett will be in the mix for a roster spot on the Panthers and now that he is 20-years-old can be sent down to Springfield for more seasoning if necessary.
Aleksi Heponiemi (Second Round - 40th overall)
The diminutive Heponiemi exploded for 118 points (28G/90A) in 57 games for the Swift Current Broncos in his second and final season in the Western Hockey League. At the conclusion of that campaign, he was named the Pattison Agriculture King of the Road, the Second Star of the season, and the Eastern Conference Most Sportsmanlike Player.
In the WHL playoffs, Heponiemi racked up 30 points in 26 games as his Broncos took out Everett to win the league championship. At the Memorial Cup, the Broncos lost three straight games and failed to advance past the round robin stage, Heponiemi however, acquitted himself well in the tournament, scoring a goal and adding three assists.
\Heponiemi returned to Finland and turned professional this past season, signing with Liiga’s Oulun Kärpät. Heponiemi appeared in 50 games for Kärpät, producing 16 goals and 46 points. He led all rookies in points, while finishing second on Kärpät in points and tied for the club lead in assists.
After being close to a point-per-game player during the regular season, the playoffs were a different story, with Heponiemi scoring three goals in 17 games as Kärpät was upset in seven games by HPK in the championship round. Two of the goals came in the same game, so he was held off the score sheet completely in 15 of the 17 games. Not a huge cause for alarm as he could off been getting a little tired at the close of his first season playing against men and it’s simply not as easy to score in tighter-checking postseason games, but definitely something worth noting.
Heponiemi made a second straight appearance at the World Junior Championship, helping Finland to the title, while tying fellow Panther prospect Grigori Denisenko for the top spot in tournament scoring with nine points (3G/6A) in seven games.
Taking everything into consideration, one has to be extremely pleased with Heponiemi’s development arc. He signed his entry-level deal in May and like Tippett, will be one of the young players to keep a close eye on during training camp.
Max Gildon (Third Round - 66th overall)
Texas native and defenseman Max Gildon played in 36 games during his freshman season for the University of New Hampshire and scored 8 goals, including a hat trick on October 20th against Colorado College, and added 15 assists to go along with a -5 rating after being selected by the Panthers.
In his sophomore season, Gildon’s numbers were similar, as he finished with 6 goals, 15 assists and a -7 rating in 31 games with the Wildcats.
At 6-foot-3 and 191 pounds, Gildon’s size, offensive potential and ability to eat up minutes make him a noteworthy prospect. He has looked very good when in Sunrise participating in development camp.
Gildon has not been signed yet, so he will return to New Hampshire for a third season of NCAA hockey. There is no need to rush this prospect.
Tyler Inamoto (Fifth Round - 133rd overall)
In his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin, Inamoto scored a goal and added three assists in 37 games. He racked up 47 PIM , blocked 45 shots and finished the campaign with a -2 rating. He was one of four first-year players to play in every game.
2018-19 saw more of the same from the young blueliner as a Badgers sophomore. Tyler again scored a single goal and doubled his assist total while playing in three fewer games. He blocked 65 shots this time around (second-best on the team) and upped his physicality, finishing with 71 PIM to lead Wisconsin in that category. Inamoto was the recipient of the Fenton Kelsey Jr./Mike Richter Most Competitive award for his efforts.
Look for Inamoto to take on a bigger role in junior season with the Badgers this year as he continues to work his way towards earning a contract with the Panthers.
Sebastian Repo (Sixth Round - 184th overall)
Late-bloomer Sebastian Repo was Florida’s final selection in the 2017 draft. After signing an entry-level contract with the Panthers, the forward returned to Liiga’s Tappara and produced 14 goals and 12 assists in 50 games. In the postseason, Repo notched 4 goals and 3 assists in 15 games as his club fell to Kärpät in the league final.
Repo crossed the pond and the played the 2018-19 season with the Springfield Thunderbirds to adjust to the North American game and put up a solid 12 goals and 20 points as an AHL rookie while carrying over the physical side he displayed in Liiga.
Now 23-years-old and in the final year of his entry-level contract, Repo will need to show improvement at the AHL level, unless he blows everyone away with a huge training camp, to put himself in the line for call-up duty with the Cats and to earn a second deal with the organization. Maxim Mamin, who had a similar type of game, briefly carved himself out a role with the Cats before somewhat inexplicably falling out of favor, so the roster door is open if Repo has the ability to walk through it.