In his first NHL season, Jesperi Kotkaniemi showed a lot of flashes of what is to come. This includes a period in early February where he potted a goal in four straight games.
While, he slowed down in March and April, his rookie season was very successful. He managed to score 34 points in 79 games. However, he only had three in his last 15 games of the season.
There are two possible reasons for this, the first is that the length of an 82 game season was too hard on the 18 year old. The other is that he had a clinical knee injury that he played through. When the season ended, Kotkaniemi had surgery to repair his left knee. He should be ready for training camp.
As for his second season, it will likely be a big one for development.
What should we expect at Camp
It’s pretty clear that one knock on Kotkaniemi’s game, was that he was too skinny during his first season. He showed that he could be very strong on the puck, by adding extra weight he will be much better at keeping the puck on his stick. This is something that Kotkaniemi will definitely work on.
The knee injury shouldn’t hold him back too long as it was only a minor surgery. Therefore, expect to see the young Finn arrive at camp about 15-20 LBS heavier. The Habs have certainly told him what to do and he’ll accomplish it the best way he can.
He will also arrive with a better knowledge of an 82 game grind. Therefore, he will likely need to come in with a better conditioning for the year ahead.
Now, he may not come into camp in perfect shape having to rehab from his knee surgery. Nonetheless, he will work even harder to get better for the year.
Playing with Drouin, would however be the worse case for both players. So it would be best to have Lehkonen or a more offensive player at left wing.
That player could be a UFA or even Nick Suzuki could potentially make the team. It would also help both Kotkaniemi and Armia a lot as they would a pure sniper to play with.
Another guy who could be good would be Paul Byron who performed well on a line with the two Finns.
A fair expectation for Kotkaniemi this upcoming season would be 15 goals and 40 points. If he moves up the lineup in a top 6 role with his hockey sense, he could manage to get up to 50-55 points as he progresses.
Expect the soon to be 19 year old, to get more powerplay time as well. Hopefully, he has more confidence to use his underrated shot. For the perfect example take a look at this goal he scored against the Avalanche this past season:
Kotkaniemi oozes potential so a big step next season is not out of the question.
His defense and hockey sense
One thing that was clear from the moment Kotkaniemi stepped on an NHL ice, was he sees the game as well as anyone. This is the main reason he cracked an NHL lineup.
His hockey sense has helped him become both a better play-maker and defensive player at the next level. He will eventually get penalty kill time and it is reasonable to think, he and Armia get a few shifts in that role towards the end of the 2019-20 season.
Here is hoping Claude Julien trusts his teenage centre more as the season goes along.
The perfect Linemate:
Kotkaniemi is only at the very beginning of his NHL career and will soon be a big threat to everyone around the league. This will especially be the case if he gets a sniper on his line. Playing with fellow countryman Joel Armia is great, but Kotkaniemi a bigger offensive force on his side.
There are signs pointing to OHL playoff MVP Nick Suzuki being that guy. Suzuki has absolutely lit up the OHL, leading his Guelph Storm to this year’s Memorial Cup. His goal scoring ability would fit perfectly alongside Kotkaniemi. The two would be a force to reckon with. If Suzuki doesn’t make the NHL straight out of camp, it may take another year before they become regular linemates. Nonetheless, it should happen sooner than later.
Only time will tell but it seems Kotkaniemi will have a very successful career in Montreal.