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'Quality over Quantity' for Panthers on Day 2 of NHL Draft

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

2017 NHL Draft: Day 2 Interviews

2017 NHL Draft: Day 2 Interviews

Interviews with Dale Tallon, Jason Bukala, Sebastian Repo, Max Gildon, Tyler Inamoto and Aleksi Heponiemi

  • 03:21 •

CHICAGO - After snatching up Owen Tippett with the 10th overall pick on Friday, the Florida Panthers went into Day 2 of the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center with four more selections, hoping to add at least one more high-quality player to their pool of talented young prospects.

If you ask Dale Tallon, he'll tell you they're heading home with four.

"It's been a great two days for the Florida Panthers organization," the Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager said. "We've added skill, size and grit to our prospect pool. We look forward to seeing them in action at development camp next week and are excited for their futures with the Panthers."

Florida selected forward Aleksi Heponiemi in the second round (40th overall), defenseman Max Gildon in the third round (66th overall), defenseman Tyler Inamoto in the fifth round (133rd overall) and forward Sebastian Repo in the sixth round (184th overall).

"We need to be selective and put pieces in the right place because our depth chart is getting nice and balanced and deep," Tallon said. "Having five picks [at this year's draft] is fine. It's quality over quantity, for us."

Here's how Day 2 of the NHL Draft went down…

THE PICKS

(Insights from Panthers Director of Amateur Scouting Jason Bukala)

Aleksi Heponiemi (2nd round, 40th overall)

Position: Center

DOB: Jan. 9, 1999

Height: 5'10'' Weight: 148 lbs.

Shoots: Left

Team: Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

An undersized player at 5-foot-10 and 148 pounds, what Heponiemi lacks in size he makes up in skill and creativity on offense.

In his first season playing in North America, the left-handed Finn was outstanding, recording 86 points (28-58-86) in 72 regular season games for Swift Current, taking home the Jim Piggott Trophy as the WHL's top rookie.

"I had a great regular season," Heponiemi said. "I had great teammates and a really good team. On the player front, I think we played really well as a team. I had a couple things to get better, but I think I had a good season.

"My physical size is a big thing; I need to work on it every day. There's obviously a lot to learn in ice hockey for me. I'm just a young guy still. There are a lot of things to do."

Heponiemi, 18, spent the 2015-16 season playing for the Ilves U20 and U18 teams. He won the U20 championship with Ilves and recorded four points (2-2-4) in seven regular season contests and one goal in seven postseason games. With the U18 squad, Heponiemi received the Esa Peltonen Award as the league's best forward after posting 65 points (25-40-65) in 39 regular season games and six points (2-4-6) in five postseason contests.

"It's a huge honor to go [to the Panthers]," Heponiemi said. "It's a great organization; lots of Finnish guys. It's an absolutely great thing."

BUKALA: "He's a real special player, a real special player. He makes plays in tight area, has a quick stick and an offensive brain. The upside, with the group that we have coming, it's nice that we added him in addition to what we did in the first round with Owen [Tippett]. It gives us a good mix with a shooter and a playmaker. He's fantastic on the power play, sees the ice and makes special, special plays."

Max Gildon (3rd round, 66th overall)

Position: Defenseman

DOB: May 17, 1999

Height: 6'3" Weight: 187 lbs.

Shoots: Left

Team: USA NTDP U18

A two-way defenseman, Gildon hopes to bring a unique blend of offense and defense to Florida's blue line in the future.

Gildon, 18, recorded 25 points (7-18-25) in 53 games with the United States National Development Program and 14 points (5-9-14) in 26 games with the club in the United States Hockey League in 2016-17.

At the 2017 IIHF U18 World Junior Championship, Gildon was one of the tournament's most-productive players, amassing six points (4-2-6) in seven games to help Team USA take home the gold.

"I'd love to develop my defensive side even more," said Gildon. "I want to be someone coaches can rely on, an all-around defenseman. That's what I kind of strive for."

Gildon is committed to play hockey at the University of New Hampshire.

"UNH is a great program with a lot of history behind it," Gildon said. "I feel I can help them get back to the top. There's a great group of players and coaches around that program. I'm hoping I can contribute to what they already have started there."

BUKALA: "He brings a little more of an offensive element. He's got a 6-foot-3 body; he skates. He peaked offensively in the second half of the season. He shoots the puck a ton."

Tyler Inamoto (5th round, 133rd overall)

Position: Defenseman

DOB: May 6, 1999

Height: 6'2'' Weight: 196 lbs.

Shoots: Left

Team: USA NTDP U18

A defensive-defenseman, Inamoto has a certain level of meanness to his game.

With an imposing presence on the ice, the 18-year-old rearguard recorded 13 points (2-11-13) in 51 games with the USNTDP and posted seven points (2-5-7) in 17 games with the club in the USHL.

"I'd say I'm a defensive defenseman, physical in my own zone and hard to play against," Inamoto said. "I can also bring a little offense."

A Chicago native, Inamoto was thrilled to be picked in his hometown.

"It's obviously a big deal, being a hometown kid" said Inamoto, who moved to Chicago from New Jersey four years ago. "It's an honor to be picked by the Florida Panthers. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play for them one day."

Inamoto is committed to play at the University of Wisconsin.

"It's the route that I wanted to take in order to develop and get stronger," Inamoto said of his decision to play college hockey. "It gives you the ability to play against guys that are three, four, five years older than you. I think that'll help me translate into the pro game."

BUKALA: "We were looking to add an element of aggressiveness in our lineup. He's a relentless competitor. He's not going to provide us a lot on the offensive side of the game, but he's a nasty individual around the net and in the corners. I think we'd be lying to ourselves if we didn't need to add that back into our equation. That's what we were looking for."

Sebastian Repo (6th round, 184th overall)

Position: Center/Right Wing

DOB: June 23, 1996

Height: 6'2'' Weight: 185 lbs.

Shoots: Right

Team: Tappara (Liiga)

At 21, Repo is already playing in the professional ranks overseas.

The Lahti, Finland native notched seven points (6-1-7) in 18 playoff games with Tampere en route to a Liiga Championship during the 2016-17 season, finishing with the third-most goals in the playoffs.

"I took some pretty big steps this past season," said Repo, a former teammate of current Panthers prospect Henrik Haapala. "I think I'm a better all-around player. I can play on both ends. I really, really improved my defensive skills."

After going undrafted for several years, Repo hopes to find a home in Florida. "It's an unbelievable feeling to get drafted," he said. "I'm 21. I'm not as young as many players, but I've just been waiting for my turn."

Fun fact: Repo turned 21 on Friday. Talk about a belated birthday present!

BUKALA: "He's a player that we've tracked for a number of years as he's developed. Every player develops at his own pace, and pace was a big problem with him, or at least an identifiable issue, earlier on. What he's been able to do is learn how to fight through that and get better. He's quicker; he's faster. He's a big, big body. He's played pro hockey already. He's pro-ready."

FINNS IN FLORIDA

With the selections of Aleksi Heponiemi and Sebastian Repo, the Panthers have now taken at least one Finnish-born player in four of the last five NHL Drafts. A native of Tampere, Finland, Heponiemi also hails from the same hometown as Panthers center Aleskander Barkov, a first-round selection in 2013. "My older brother's the same age as him," Heponiemi said of Barkov. "I was watching him my whole junior career. Great player." As for Repo, well, his praise of Barkov was a bit more profuse. "He's like a god," the Lahti, Finland native said.

TEXAS TIES

While most of his friends were playing football, Max Gildon was playing hockey, an unusual sport of choice for a kid growing up in the Lone Star State. Hoping to become just the 10th Texas-born player to reach the NHL, Gildon, a native of Plano, Texas, credits his family for getting him hooked on hockey. "It was something that always seemed really fun," Gildon said. "My grandfather and my mom were heavy contributors to that. It worked out." Of the all of the blue liners that have called Texas home, the most famous would have to be Hall of Famer Brian Leetch, who tallied 1,028 points in 1,205 career NHL games.

BLUE LINE BUDDIES

After sharing the blue line in 2016-17, Tyler Inamoto and Max Gildon were once again paired together on Saturday, this time as members of the Panthers. The blue line buddies spent part of last season sharing the ice for the United States National Development Program, with Inamoto's defense-first mentality serving as a nice compliment to Gildon's offensive skillset. "I had the opportunity to play with Max for two years," Inamoto said. "We became pretty close. From now until then, we're going to be great friends and great teammates. We're just going to do our best out there and try to contribute to the Panthers as much as we can."

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