2018 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: Jesperi Kotkaniemi could be a future top center
The next great Finnish forward?
Current Team: Ässät (Liiga)
Date of Birth: July 6, 2000
Birthplace: Pori, Finland
57 GP/10 G/19 A/29 P/20 PIM
It’s a great era for Finnish forwards, with Patrik Laine scoring 44 goals this season and Sebastian Aho leading the World Championships with 9 goals. The next great Finn may be Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He has shot up draft boards over the course of this season and will likely go in the top half of the first round.
This past season, he played in Finland’s top league as a 17 year old, recording 10/19/29 in 57 games. While he played wing there, in international competitions with Finland’s junior team, he has played center. He was featured on the PK on those teams as well, so his ceiling is that of an elite two-way center.
His skating leaves something to be desired, but his size and his shot are enough to have him ranked as the #6 European skater by NHL Central Scouting, and #4 overall on the ranking of The Athletic’s Corey Pronman. Most other rankings have him in the mid-teens, which means he could be a slam dunk pick for the Jackets if he falls to #18.
Kotkaniemi has a lot of desirable elements. He has very good hands that are high-end, if not flashing elite. He can make very skilled plays off an entry, but what impresses me is how well he can control the puck and keep plays alive. With his frame and skill, it’s very hard to strip him of possession. He is also a very smart playmaker. Kotkaniemi sees the ice very well and can be the primary guy to set up along the wall on a power play and move the puck around. He understands how to create chances and isn’t afraid to attempt difficult plays. He prefers to make plays, but when he does shoot, I’ve liked his finishing touch. His skating isn’t amazing, but when I’ve seen him, his speed looks fine but his stride is a bit awkward. Defensively he’ll need to improve, like every young player, but I think he’s reasonably fine in that area and has shown he can be relied on at evens as a 17-year-old versus men. He has the best shot of any prospect in this draft class to be a No. 1 center. - Corey Pronman, The Athletic
A smart forward with a dangerous shot, Kotkaniemi possesses a high hockey IQ and determination with the skills to back it up. Positions himself well and often seems to be a step ahead of plays. Stickhandling and creativity allow him to split professional defences as a teenager. Decent size and frame, yet a very capable skater. - Matias Strozyk, Elite Prospects