Aleksi Heponiemi, Buffalo Sabres, Column, Florida Panthers, Kasper Bjorkqvist, News, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ralph Krueger

NHL News & Notes: Krueger, Heponiemi & More

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In today’s News & Notes, the Buffalo Sabres have hired Ralph Krueger as their new head coach, the Florida Panthers have signed Aleksi Hopniemi to a three-year entry-level contract and the Pittsburgh Penguins have signed Kasper Bjorkqvist to an entry-level contract.

Sabres Hire Krueger as Coach

The Sabres would make arguably the biggest move they’ll make all offseason when they hired Krueger as their head coach on Wednesday. Krueger previously served as the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13 for the lockout-shortened season and was unceremoniously fired via Skype.

Ralph Krueger,
Ralph Krueger with Team Europe. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Krueger also coached Switzerland’s national team to three Olympic Appearances in 2002, 2006 and 2010 and helped Team Europe compete for the Gold Medal Game at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. He also consulted for Mike Babcock and Team Canada for their Gold Medal win in 2014.

“I could just feel the coaching magnet calling me back,” Krueger said Wednesday after being hired by the Sabres. “I stayed very close to the game. All the relationships I built over the years are warm. I’ve been in contact with multiple head coaches over these last years. It’s always been my startup site, Watching games and observing the way the league is operating has always been important to me.”

Related: Krueger Named Sabres’ Head Coach

Krueger would also mention that he sees the Sabres as contenders already.

“This group is ready to become a contender and to compete with anybody on any given night,” said Krueger. “I’m confident that we can become that kind of a team quite quickly.”

Panthers Sign Heponiemi

The Panthers agreed to terms on a three-year entry-level deal with 2017 second-round pick Heponiemi after a very successful 2018-19 season with Karpat of the Finnish Elite League.

Swift Current Broncos center Aleksi Heponiemi
Swift Current Broncos center Aleksi Heponiemi (20) fires the puck out of the defensive zone during Game 4 of the Western Hockey League Championship between the Everett Silvertips and the Swift Current Broncos at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, WA. Swift Current defeated Everett by a final score of 1-0. (Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 20-year-old forward would score an impressive 16 goals and 46 points in 50 games in Finland this past season and would also represent Finland at the 2019 IIHF U20 World Junior Championships where he’d win a gold medal. He’d also lead the tournament in assists (six) and points (nine).

We are thrilled to have agreed to terms with Aleksi,” said general manager and President Dale Tallon. “He is an immensely skilled and dynamic player with excellent vision and hockey IQ. Aleksi has been an elite player at every level and a leader on winning teams on the junior and international stages. We look forward to Aleksi’s development with the Panthers and believe he will be an important part of our organization’s success for years to come.

There’s a good chance that Heponiemi will compete for a spot on the Panthers’ NHL roster on opening night next season given how well he shined against men in Finland after having an excellent two seasons with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL that saw him score 56 goals and 2-4 points in 129 games.

Penguins Sign Bjorkqvist

The Penguins signed Bjorkqvist, their second-round selection from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, to a two-year entry-level contract. The 21-year-old spent the last three seasons with Providence College and would set career-highs in goals (17), assists (13) and points (30) in 42 games this past season.

“Kasper [Bjorkqvist] was able to produce in big games throughout his college career, and he was fortunate to play in a lot of them,” said assistant general manager Bill Guerin. “Playing for an outstanding program in Providence allowed him to go far in the NCAA Tournament each season, so he received a lot of great experience.”

Guerin would also go onto mention that it was the consistent improvements that Bjorkqvist displayed that really caught the attention of the Penguins as they watched him develop in the collegiate ranks.

“We were very happy with the steady progression in Kasper’s production,” Guerin said. “I know Kasper expected that improvement in his personal numbers each season. He is also a very disciplined hockey player who plays a very team-oriented game.”

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