For the second straight year, the Habs selected a centre with their top pick, selecting Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick on Friday night. The Finn has been one of the risers in the rankings in recent weeks and Montreal clearly believes that he has the potential to be a number one centre down the road, something they’ve been lacking for a long, long time.
DOB: July 6th, 2000
Weight: 182 lbs
CSB: 6 (European skaters)
Hockey Prospect: 8
Future Considerations: 13
The Hockey News: 18
TSN (Button): 5
TSN (McKenzie): 5
Hockey Prospect: Kotkaniemi is a large two-way center who has a high-level of intelligence and competitiveness that compliments a versatile game. There’s not one specific attribute that stands-out above the rest for Jesperi, however he does have several good to great attributes that allowed him to become one of the most promising centres in this year’s draft. When he isn’t offensively engaged or executing at the rate he’s capable of given his skill-set, he still finds ways to be effective for his team. He’s shown a high-level of compete without the puck and is willing to expend his motor in order to track-down the opposition during backchecking sequences, he’s also willing to forecheck aggressively and finishes his checks along the boards.
ISS: Jesperi is a big, skilled centre that is a presence every time he is on the ice. He is a tall, lengthy skater that has deceiving speed in open ice. He will challenge anyone offensively and isn’t afraid to take it to the dirty areas to create offence for himself or his teammates. He has a high hockey sense and always seems to be in the right spot. Will need to show more consistency in play away from the puck and in the use of his physical tools.
Recrutes: “He’s a really good player,” said one scout who has him firmly ranked in his top four. “There’s nothing that he can’t do in my opinion. I saw an improvement through the year in his skating for sure. He can increase his overall speed but that will come. I have no problem with that. I don’t see it being an issue with him at all.”
McKeens: An ultra-competitive and highly skilled attacker, Kotkaniemi has a hard wrist shot and excellent on-ice vision. He sees the whole ice and possesses deft puck skills. However, his skating, particularly in terms of his explosiveness and top speed, needs work. He played wing in the Liiga, but he is better suited for center and has the potential to become an impactful NHLer within a few seasons.
Future Considerations: A rangy forward, he’s got the reputation as a player who can get things done. A bulky forward with strong puck skill, hockey sense, and quickness, he’s deadly inside the hash marks as a setup man and as a goal scorer. An intriguing prospect with power-forward upside and great hockey sense – which draws comparisons to Aleksander Barkov – but only if he continues to develop his skating stride, which is awkward.
LWOS: Kotkaniemi has good size. He takes advantage of his big frame, as he’s willing to work down low. He loves to take the puck and drive to the front of the net. Without the puck he is also found around the top of the crease, ready to provide a screen or pounce on a rebound. Kotkaniemi could develop into an effective two-way centre at the NHL level, capable of playing against top lines, killing penalties, and playing on the powerplay. His game resembles that of Ryan O’Reilly, but this is a stylistic comparison only and not one based on talent and ability.
Hockey Prospector: So stylistically speaking in the way he skates and handles the puck, he really reminds me a lot of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins but I think he’s going to end up a bit better than that. That’s actually a compliment by the way…I rather like RNH except for the fact that he’s not super durable and often injured. Kotkaniemi is also bigger and sturdier and if he becomes a bigger and sturdier version of Nugent-Hopkins, I’d say that’s a pretty darn good player. In the end, the best case scenario I think I can see him becoming a mid-tier Top-Line center in the NHL much like Logan Couture in terms of impact on an NHL team but it’s not certain he reaches that level.
While it’s possible that Kotkaniemi could make the jump to the NHL right away (something that would be aided by the fact he played in a men’s league all season), it may make more sense for him to stay overseas for one more year and add some strength. He also may get the opportunity to play centre next season in Finland which would certainly be beneficial for when he transitions to the NHL; it’s hard to envision that the Habs would immediately play him down the middle with the big club if he doesn’t spend some time there back home. (He’ll get there eventually though.)