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2018 NHL Draft Profile: Jesperi Kotkaniemi

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Scott Matla - Habs Eyes on the Prize @scottmatla

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ässät (Liiga)

The Numbers

Position: Center (and LW)

Shoots: Left

DOB: July 6, 2000 / Pori, Finland

Height/Weight: 6’2, 190 pounds

2017-2018 Stats: 57 GP, 10 G, 19 A

Projected Selection: First Round, Pick 9ish

Projected Future: Top-six center

At age 17, Jesperi Kotkaniemi is already building a case to be the next Finnish phenom forward, having already shown a mature playing style during his first year playing with, and against, Finland’s best. Is Kotkaniemi destined to be the Finnish top-line centerman of legend Valtteri Filppula dreamed of being? Perhaps.

This kid’s stock is rapidly rising, having been initially slotted as a later first round pick he’s now being heralded by more and more as the top center of this year’s draft class. The secret’s out, he went from NHL Insider Sneaky Favorite to *name spelled correctly in lights*. A lot of teams have their eye on him, and the Wings do too.

He is showing himself to be extremely well-rounded, exactly what you want in a load-bearing centerman. Pardon the cliche, but he has excellent hockey vision and creativity with his ability to find shooting angles the goalie isn’t expecting and combined with his quick release wrister he gets the puck to the back of the net.

He is also a penalty killer, and with the Wings tendency to get very streaky in terms of success and failure of the penalty kill you can never have too many forwards ready to jump in and coordinate the effort. As a shutdown man, he is reliable and someone you’d want to play late in the third while protecting a one-goal lead not that the Wings would ever need that kind of skillset.

He’s solid on his skates, not easy to shove off the puck, although right now doesn’t look like he will be blazing past people either. He has a quick pivot, and agility is more valuable than a few more notches in the speedometer. As he is only 17, if he drinks his milk and eats his greens he will likely gain an extra step or two before he comes over to North America.

I would say the only potential red flag the Wings would care about is this little tidbit from Future Considerations, “...has a tendency to get a little too individualistic at times and needs to consistently use his teammates to maximise his effectiveness…” However, he is also praised as a “hard-worker” which is the magic word for Wings management right, Andreas? Right, Anthony? Right, none of the players who frequently deserve that criticism?

The big question as always is how will he transition to playing on smaller ice against bigger dudes and sharper goalies? Clever tricksters often have to revamp their style when they level-up and can’t get people to fall for their feints and breakaway antics as much. One important thing to note is that he spent most of last season on the wing with not much PK time, which makes sense given his smol child status with his professional team. However, he does fill the top center role for Team Finland in international competition.

It’s not outrageous to compare him to Larkin, albeit not as blazing fast. We saw the struggles Larkin, a player known for his individual creativity and breakaways, went through transitioning from wing to center (and then how he kicked buns this past season having settled in). It is worth keeping an eye on if Kotkaniemi is able to get full-time centerman minutes with next season or if he does stay on the wing and blows up the world with his genius.

Either way, the team who drafts him should be ready to give him any extra time and attention he may need to fully slot into whatever role they want for him.

Bottom Line:

Kotkaniemi is absolutely on Ken Holland’s radar, and with Kenny stating he’s not opposed to trading down from the 6th pick for the right price, and it’s not out of the question that we end up nabbing Kotkaniemi before going after our defensive prospects. It sounds like the Wings will be keeping their thumbs poised to fire off texts if their favorite prospects look to go much sooner or later than expected.

If Kenny isn’t wowed by what he sees out of guys like Hughes, Bouchard, and Boqvist as we approach the Draft then we may just end up going for our center right away. “...signing Anthony Mantha for under $4M will be the real draft acquisition...friends we made along the way...it’s about the journey...best defense is a 200 foot player...pie...pie pie pie….pie.”

The Wings are pretty well off on picks so they may just be playing a longer game to stock up defense from next year’s draft class and digging up some gems in this year’s 2nd-3rd rounds.*

*I hear he is taking a hard look at that high school dropout who plays banjo at a dive bar a few blocks from American Airlines Center. Judd-Boyd Rutherford Jones, future Nick Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings.

WIIM Exclusive Prospect Fact:

What can I tell you about Kotkaniemi that others won’t have already covered to exhaustion? Well, I can tell you that after wondering if he was some sort of Digivolved form of Antti Niemi I found that the last name “Kotkaniemi” can just be split into “Kotka” = a city on the coast of the Gulf of Finland and “niemi” = cape (i.e. promontory, not like Batman).

So, maybe he has family there or something.

This investigative reporter will rest easily without ever knowing the truth.

Kyle’s take on the young Finn: Kotkaniemi is an intriguing prospect. Scouts aren't high on his skating ability, that’s probably what has him down in the rankings. He’s got a real nice wrist-shot, which makes him a threat deep in the zone. Jesperi has a refined defensive game for his age — he can help you on both ends of the ice. The Red Wings have shown a lot of interest in him, but I feel taking him in the top-10 might be a stretch. Then again, this draft is thin with centers. He’d be a fine addition to the cupboard, but I’d like to see it in a trade-down situation.

Have some highlights:

Poll

Would you take Kotkaniemi for the Wings?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Yes - use our 6th
    (36 votes)
  • 44%
    Yes - trade down picks for him
    (228 votes)
  • 48%
    No
    (253 votes)
517 votes total Vote Now