THE AGEING VETERAN PERSPECTIVE
The Habs’ season last year was one most fans will want to quickly forget. After the painful season the bright side of things was the chance to win the lottery and draft Rasmus Dhalin. The Habs were lucky enough to improve their position by one spot, but they did not take that overall top draft spot. However, third place was not a bad spot to pick from.
The TSN rankings had Filip Zadina third overall, and it seemed like a natural choice that the Habs would select him, especially since they were planning on moving their captain Max Pacioretty. Zadina could possibly step in and provide much needed goal scoring to the Habs. Montreal did however do what some analysts thought they might - pick a center, Jesperi Kotkaniemi. At first many fans, and myself included, were shocked. Why pass up what seemed like a sure goal scorer? Well, if you take a look at Kotkaniemi’s resume it makes a lot of sense. Last season he played in Finland, suiting up for 57 games for Assat Pori in the SM-lilga. He had 29 points in those games - not huge numbers, but factoring that he was a 17 year-old playing against fully grown men and he mainly was playing on the 3rd line, those numbers seem quite a bit better. In the World Juniors he also had 9 points in 7 games.
He is touted as having an exceptionally high hockey IQ, a dangerous shot, and at 6’2 and 188 lbs, he is big enough to not get pushed around in the faceoff dot. Analysts have likened his game to that of Anze Kopitar’s which would be incredible for the Habs if he could develop into that kind of player. The Habs have needed a true center for quite a long time. Something Habs fans are beyond tired of hearing about. It seems as though they may have finally found one. The question is what should they do with Kotkaniemi this season? Lots of fans would love to see him with the big club right away. Earn his place, get some excellent experience.
He will likely spend the first few games in Montreal, but it is very possible he will be sent back to Finland to play for his home team. In Finland he has been moved up to top line center and in the first game they played he had 2 assists. It would be much better for his overall development this year to stay in Finland, learn the role of being a number 1, and hone his skills to ensure he is properly matured when he suits up full time for the Habs. I don’t think anybody wants to see this pick go the same way of the last third overall center that the Habs drafted..