The University of Denver Pioneers will welcome nine talented freshmen to campus for the 2017-8 season. Ranked as a top-five recruiting class in the country, the 2017-18 freshman class appears to be stocked with potential. Between now and the start of the Pioneers’ season, Mile High Hockey will be profiling each of the incoming freshmen and examining their potential impact on the 2017-18 season and beyond.
After rising up through the competitive junior hockey ranks in Finland, Jaakko Heikkinen’s commitment to move to the United States and suit up for DU was announced in June.
Heikkinen grew up playing against DU star forward Henrik Borgström in the Finnish junior circuit and the two also became familiar through the national team. Although Borgström seemed like a good bet to return to school after a stellar freshman year, some have floated the idea that Heikkinen’s commitment was among the influential factors in Borgström’s decision not to sign with the Florida Panthers, who own his draft rights.
Needless to say, DU would be beyond pleased if Heikkinen can duplicate or even come close to his fellow countryman’s performance in his freshman year.
Heikkinen played all of his junior hockey with Jokerit in his hometown of Helsinki. His steady progression bears out a player with plenty of NCAA potential. In two full seasons of Junior A, Heikkinen posted 85 points (28 G, 57 A) and a plus/minus of +51 in 87 games. For reference, Borgström logged 55 points (29 G, 26 A) and ended up at +23 in his only season of Junior A in Finland with Helsinki’s HIFK.
DU head coach Jim Montgomery stopped short of comparing the two straight up, but still had plenty of high praise for Heikkinen in regards to his role with the Pioneers.
“Jaakko is going to be a poor-man’s Borgström,” Montgomery told Mike Chambers of The Denver Post. “He can really do some amazing things with the puck. He’s not Borgstrom but he’s going to be a really good player for us.”
Playing well in a competitive Finnish junior circuit is a good indication that Heikkinen can step in and play impact minutes in his first season stateside. It certainly paid dividends for the Pioneers just one year ago with Borgström, and having Henrik on the team will surely help to ease what will be an understandably difficult transition period for Heikkinen, both on and off the ice.
Slotting behind DU’s talented returners at foward like Borgström and Troy Terry, I expect Heikkinen to step up and prove his worth in the NCAA quickly this season.