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Jesperi Kotkaniemi burst onto the scene at last year’s Under-18 World Championships. He put up six points in seven games as an underage player and helped Finland to the silver medal. He carried that strong play into this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament, where he scored four points in four games. The strong play has been enough to see Kotkaniemi graduate from the Finnish junior leagues, up to the top league with Assat Pori. Playing against men, in the Finnish SM-Liiga, Kotkaniemi has scored 10 goals and 29 points in 57 games for Assat. He has been a little quieter in the playoffs though, with just one assist in seven games.
Kotkaniemi has good bloodlines, as his father, Mikael, also played professional hockey for Assat. He also spent some time in pro leagues in Denmark and Germany.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi Scouting Report
Centre — shoots Left
Born July 6th, 2000 — Pori, Finland
Height 6’2″ — Weight 190 lbs [188 cm / 86 kg]
Kotkaniemi is not a speedster like others who are in this range of our draft rankings, but he is not slow either. He can keep up with the play and has a decent first step and acceleration. He is strong on his skates and has the power and balance in his stride to fight through checks. Kotkaniemi protects the puck well in the cycle game and wins battles on the boards. He is tough to move from the front of the net. He also has good edgework and agility and is able to beat defenders in one-on-one situations.
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 has a strong wrist-shot and an excellent release. He is a smart player and has a knack for finding open space without the puck and setting himself up for a one-timer or wrister on net.
Kotkaniemi is also a good playmaker, with good vision and passing skills. He has the stickhandling ability to protect the puck on the cycle and extend plays to find an open teammate. Kotkaniemi anticipates the movements of his teammates and can get them the puck in good scoring areas. He does not force things and is willing to keep possession by hitting the open man in the cycle rather than making an overly risky play. Kotkaniemi is also strong on the forecheck, pressuring the defence and creating turnovers and scoring chances for teammates.
Kotkaniemi reads the play well and plays a strong defensive game. He provides effective back pressure on the rush and supports the defence down low. He is willing to engage physically in his own end, battling for pucks on the boards, and helping to keep the front of the net clear. Kotkaniemi shows effective positioning and uses his stick to cut down passing lanes. He also is not afraid to block shots. Once a turnover is created, he is quick to start the transition game. He could stand to add a bit more muscle to help him in the physical aspects of the game going forward.
Projection and Comparison
Kotkaniemi is probably a year or two away from the NHL. Expect him to spend next season in Finland continuing to refine his game. He could stand to put more muscle on what is currently a skinny frame. This is not unusual for an 18-year-old prospect though. 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.
The following is a compilation of some of the many highlight packages of Kotkaniemi that are available on youtube.
Check back tomorrow for the next prospect on our draft board.
Embed from Getty Images
PLYMOUTH, MI – FEBRUARY 14: Jesperi Kotkaniemi #28 of the Finland Nationals skates up ice with the puck against the Russian Nationals during the 2018 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament game at USA Hockey Arena on February 14, 2018 in Plymouth, Michigan. Russia defeated Finland 4-0. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)