The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, which made the 2018 NHL Draft a bit of an outlier for the Montreal Canadiens.
Of course, no one was quite sure Montreal’s 2017 haul would turn out quite as well as it did. Ryan Poehling, Josh Brook, Cale Fleury and Cayden Primeau look like can’t-miss prospects, and the trade that brought Nick Suzuki into the fold has helped the Canadiens establish one of the deepest pools in the league.
None of it makes up for how things have turned out with the team’s first rounders from 2011-16, but let’s not open up old wounds. No, let’s stick with what’s fresh.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 18, C, Montreal Canadiens
Drafted: First round, 3rd overall
Season to date: 25 GP | 3 G | 9 A | 12 P | -1
Kotkaniemi ranked second among NHL rookies in points just a week ago, producing at a point per game rate over a five-game stretch and notching 12 points in his first 21 games.
Now he’s down to seventh on the list, with linemates Artturi Lehkonen and Charles Hudon running colder than anyone else on the Canadiens. A bump up to the first unit of the NHL’s second-most woeful power play hasn’t mitigated that situation.
Not that there’s anything to be concerned about. If Kotkaniemi was playing regularly with at least one player who could finish, he’d be right up there with Elias Pettersson and Brady Tkachuk.
Points aside, there’s a lot more to like about what Kotkaniemi is doing as the NHL’s youngest player. He sees the ice so well, he’s rarely out of position, and he’s poised and confident with and without the puck.
He’s also adapting quickly. For instance, early in the season he took three minor penalties by getting his stick parallel to the ice and latching on—which is a staple of the European game he was playing a year ago in Finland. But he hasn’t taken one since.