The Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Montreal Canadiens next and all eyes will be on Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Per a report from Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette, Claude Julien, head coach of the Canadiens announced that Kotkaniemi will start the season in the NHL.
He showed a tremendous amount of promise this preseason and he’s earned a spot for the first few games of the season. Kotkaniemi showcased his talent right from the get-go in preseason as he scored a beautiful goal in his Habs preseason debut.
His teammate and former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman, Rinat Valiev found him wide open in the faceoff circle to the right of the New Jersey Devils net. Valiev then delivered a pass to Kotkaniemi and seconds later, Kotkaniemi fired the puck past Devils goaltender, Mackenzie Blackwood for his first goal in a Habs sweater.
While one goal doesn’t necessarily prove that Kotkaniemi will be the next Saku Koivu, fans of the Canadiens should dream big. The Habs have a had many rough seasons over the last five years and perhaps the 18 year old native of Pori, Finland can rejuvenate the Canadiens squad and fan base.
Even though Kotkaniemi will be wearing a Canadiens jersey, I’m still excited. I’m excited to see the 18 year old centre in action.
Last season, he had a strong season in the Liiga with Ässät. He appeared in 57 games with the Finnish club and registered 10 goals and 19 assists. While his offensive numbers look abysmal, they aren’t. The Finnish league isn’t known to be a high scoring league. In fact, there was only one forward who average more than a point per game in the Liiga last year. So, don’t put pressure on Kotkaniemi for low offensive production. The game of hockey in Finland is very different and a smaller ice surface in the NHL should only boost his numbers.
In April of this year, Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie), managing editor of Colorado Avalanche SB Nation blog, Mile High Hockey wrote a detailed scouting report on Kotkaniemi. Below is a quote from Hunter’s scouting report.
"The Finnish player is a goal-scorer, a playmaker, a powerplay quarterback and a penalty killer. We say all the time that players can perform in “all situations”, but that is particularly true about Kotkaniemi. When it comes to scoring goals, his quick release is his greatest attribute. Not unlike Auston Matthews, he has the ability to carry the puck into unlikely scoring areas, and then beat the unsuspecting goalie with a quick wrist shot.He is a skilled puck-handler and he uses his stickhandling to buy himself time while looking for teammates. When playing internationally against guys his own age, he has show the strength necessary to carry the puck through traffic, particularly through the neutral zone."
From Hunter’s scouting report, you can see that Kotkaniemi is one special prospect. He can dominate in the offensive zone and create situations for his teammates to capitalize. Plus, he can be a demon on special teams and has excellent stick-handling skills.
Hopefully, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens fans will be able to see Kotkaniemi’s outstanding skill-set in action on Wednesday night. At this moment in time, we aren’t sure if he’ll be scratched for game one of the regular season or how much ice time he might have.
If Kotkaniemi does play on Wednesday night, it’ll be a fun opportunity for fans to witness his regular season debut. Whether or not you are a fan of the Canadiens, it’s always fun to watch a rookie hit the ice for the first time.
stats from eliteprospects.com