When the draft starts on Friday, the Habs will be lucky enough to pick third. Before this advantageous position was obtained, a consensus top-three was revealed by many experts which included Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, and Filip Zadina. Despite a belief by many experts that the top three players stand above the rest, the organizational need for an elite centreman that has lingered for far too long might see GM Marc Bergevin defy the experts and select a pivot with the third overall selection. After a strong season with Assat in Finland and a sensational World Under-18s, Jesperi Kotkaniemi appears to be the selection of choice should the Habs really decide to go “off the board” and select the much-desired centre.
The risk with Kotkaniemi appears to be that he is not NHL-ready just yet. Therefore, his selection might be a giant message to fans on the part of the organization that they want to take another year, a step back, before moving ahead with competing. In other words, the selection of Kotkaniemi might be an admission that fans are in one more very long season before this ship starts to right itself. However, when one considers how these picks have worked in the past (think Pierre-Luc Dubois or Aleksander Barkov), this might not be a terrible option. Then consider the thought by many experts that Kotkaniemi is such a smart player that his “floor” as a prospect is a 2nd line centre, and it would be understandable if the Habs rolled the dice on this intriguing player.
He put up only 29 points in 57 games, but one must consider that he had to adapt to playing against men in the Finnish league as opposed to playing junior. He also ranked third on his team in scoring. A smaller sample size, the World Under 18s, saw him shine as he centred one of the most productive lines on the way to a gold medal. Kotkaniemi is an elite, intelligent, and productive centre with good size and an even better vision. He may not be the best skater in the draft, but he remains a player that would be a great addition to the current roster to help the ranks of Jake Evans, Joni Ikonen, and Ryan Poehling as potential long-term solutions up the middle in Montreal.
DOB: July 6th, 2000
Weight: 182 lbs
CSB: 6 (European skaters)
Hockey Prospect: 8
Future Considerations: 13
The Hockey News: 18
TSN (Button): 5
The one aspect that scouts from all over agree upon is that Kotkaniemi’s vision of the ice and ability to make plays in tight are off the charts. This is a large centre who is very intelligent including patience, poise, awareness, and maturity to his game. He is a fierce competitor for pucks along the boards and around the net, where he knows how to use his size to his advantage. Kotkaniemi’s other skills include a strong release to a fairly accurate wrist shot and being defensively aware.
The biggest knock against Kotkaniemi is his skating acceleration or explosiveness. His top speed is up to par, but he really needs to work on his explosiveness to be elite at the NHL level. His comparatives appear to be Boone Jenner, though many believe that Barkov may be a better comparable if he is successful at improving his skating.
The biggest reason that Kotkaniemi is considered a stretch with the third pick is the thought that he isn’t immediately NHL ready. Some experts believe he is still a year away, while others give him two seasons to grow into his big frame and be truly NHL ready. Regardless of his own readiness, it is worth considering that Kotkaniemi is still under contract for two seasons with his current club. This may be the best long-term option, leaving Kotkaniemi to battle for positions with Evans, Ikonen, and Poehling in a few years time though it does little to soothe a fanbase who is clearly looking for immediate help at the centre ice position.
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