The Detroit Red Wings selected defensemen Kasper Kotkansalo 71st overall in the 2017 NHL draft. This was one of the better picks made at the draft by Detroit, as the Helsinki native was a very underrated blue liner, coming out of the USHL.
A quick summary of the kind of player he is: Kotkansalo is a Finish, left handed 6’2 shut down defensemen with some offensive upside. He played for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, and he will be attending Boston University next season. There is a lot to be excited about with this pick.
What does he bring to the table?
Kotkansalo is at his best when in the defensive side of the ice. He has been described as a shut down defensemen who can play against the other teams best players. “I think I’m a two-way defensemen. I like to play against the top line of the opponents” Kotkansalo said at the Red Wings 2017 prospects development camp.
Kotkansalo is able to be such an excellent defensive player in several ways. Starting off with his physicality, he’s not afraid to throw the body around. He makes his presence felt along the boards in puck battles where he puts his aggressiveness on display. He is also able to consistently close gaps quickly and efficiently. He’s a strong enough skater to be able to keep up with the opponents best and most skilled players.
His statistics back up his great play in the defensive zone. Kotkansalo was a plus-12 in 47 games for the Sioux Falls Stampede. What makes this even more impressive is that the Stampede were one of the worst teams in the USHL last year. He was one of the few bright spots they saw last season.
But what makes this pick an intriguing one is that he has offensive upside. This has been described as the most underrated part of his game. He has a very strong first pass, as his vision is remarkable. When under pressure he’s able to move the puck out with little mistakes made.
He is a question mark inside the offensive zone however. He has found difficulty getting shots through and I would not say he has the high end hockey sense to make a great play on his own. However he’s skilled enough that he would not be the last player I would choose to give the puck to in big situations.
Statistically, he does have decent offensive numbers in international play. In 13 games played for Finland’s U20 team he had 2 goals and 4 assists for 6 points. And at the U18 World Championships he had no goals and 4 assists in 6 games played.
Kotkansalo is very reliable, physical shutdown defensemen with great vision who can move the puck under pressure. As far as what he needs to improve on is his efficiency in the offensive zone, things like getting shots through and being more active.
One thing I was surprised about was his character. Detroit stressed deeply that they were looking for guys with great character, and I didn’t see too much of that in him. He doesn’t appear to be someone that wants to be looked at as the guy others go too, or in other words be a leader on and off the ice.
Overall though, he is an intriguing prospect to be excited about. If he can reach the offensive upside he has, to go along with his ability to be a shut down defender, he could be a good player one day in the NHL. It will be interesting to see how he continues to develop next season at Boston University.