Maybe the most under-the-radar guy to be selected by Detroit in the top-10, Jesperi Kotkaniemi has been the biggest riser in the 2018 NHL entry draft. Playing with Ässät in the top finnish pro league, Kotkaniemi has established himself as the best center in the draft. However, it is worth noting he played wing in league play but center internationally. He still projects to be a center in the NHL. He’s a July 2000 birthday, so there is still some extra room for development as he is still at least a year out from the NHL.
He came in at 6’2″ 181lbs at the scouting combine. Here was his interview:
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) June 2, 2018
There is a lot to like with Kotkaniemi’s game. He does everything exceptionally well, showing the ability to completely take over a game. Starting with his shot – it’s world-class. His ability to score from all areas of the ice is what really sticks out to me. He is most dangerous on the powerplay, being able to play both circles, the slot and net front. You can’t forget about him or else stuff like this will happen:
Despite his elite shot he is more of a play-maker. He sees the ice very well and can find his teammates in open-ice, either by using his vision or creating with his smooth hands and big body for puck protection. A lot of this generates from his own half of the ice since his skating is nothing special. He possesses good speed but doesn’t have the acceleration to get separation. He plays an east-west game which lets his strengths flourish, but don’t expect him to fly by defenders. Here is some examples of him using his vision and quick decision-making (notice the good defensive takeaway in the first clip as well):
Some great display of him using his vision to find teammates down ice. These next two clips depict his ability to generate chances with control of the puck:
Kotkaniemi has shown he is a very talented kid, his game just isn’t about overwhelming you with pure skill. He has all the tools to become a two-way force and contribute heavily on both special teams. He might have the most complete skill set of any forward in the draft.
This past season Kotkaniemi had one of the best draft seasons in the SM-Liiga in recent memory. Even more impressive is he did it as one of the youngest at seventeen years of age.
Graphic via @S7Dsn
He had 29 points in 57 games, which is quite frankly unbelievable, considering how his draft year started. At the Ivan Hlinka he didn’t stand out at all. When the World Juniors came around he was a late cut (albeit a surprising one). So it was a slow start to the year internationally. But as the calendar year changed, he took off internationally. Starting with the U18 5 nations tournament he put his name on the map with a 4 point performance against Sweden. Than the U18s came around and he was dominant, scoring 9 points in 7 games while leading Finland to gold.
Is it a Motor City Match
This is an interesting one. Detroit is by no means set down the middle, with Dylan Larkin being the only foundational piece. Even than, is Larkin going to become a true super-star player in this league? Kotkaniemi would certainly address a need, but Detroit has a need everywhere. Most reports say that Detroit doesn’t plan on taking a winger, but would they be passing on better players like a Wahlstrom or Zadina if they fall to them?
Nevertheless, Detroit reportedly has significant in Kotkaniemi, being one of only three teams to take the fin out to dinner during the combine. The other two teams being the Montreal Canadians and Chicago Blackhawks. Many have suggested a trade down to select him, but that would be a major gamble. With the Blackhawks being only two picks behind Detroit, they would have to select him at 6th overall. The risk is to great not to do so.
Taking Kotkaniemi at 6th overall wouldn’t be a reach by any means. He might not be the flashy name we all want, but he has the talent to be a special player and become one of the best taken from this draft class.