Before the most recent COVID shut down, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was part of a shocking offer sheet between the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes this past off-season, was performing well. He was on a three-game point streak and had five points during that span.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s Hot Streak
A reason for this point streak could be his increased role due to injuries and COVID-19 hitting key players, such as Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, on the Hurricanes. Kotkaniemi’s streak started in the game against the Vancouver Canucks on December 12th where he had a TOI (Time On Ice) of 17:22 (excluding the Power Play). This is the most he has played this season. In this game, he tallied one point and had a Game Score (According to HockeystatCards) of 0.93, which is good. In the next two games, his TOI stayed above 15 minutes and in his most recent game against the Los Angeles Kings he had a season-high Power Play (PP) TOI of five minutes. The coach seems to be trusting him more by giving him more ice-time, and this is paying off as in his past two games, his Game Score was above 1.00 (His average this season is 0.53).
Overall, this season he has been pretty good: he is second on his team in CF% (Corsi For %) and tenth in xGF% (Expected Goals For %). That saying, this may in part be due to him being sheltered, as he often starts in the offensive zone. Additionally, he only plays against “Elite” (PuckIQ for more information) players 19.3% of his total ice time, which is on the lower end of the team. He mostly plays against “Gritensity” players (AKA lower-end players). Although he is tasked to face these players, overall he is effective against all types of competition, having a DFF% (Dangerous Fenwick %) of at least 50% against the three types of competition he plays against (“Elite”, “Middle” and “Gritensity”). The coaches on the team seem to be giving Kotkanimei some room to grow and not rush him, an area his former team didn’t do so well in. He is not only facing weaker competition but isn’t playing much per game as well.
Production-wise, Kotkanimei has not been doing too well compared to others, scoring 13 points in 29 games. Interestingly enough, this is the highest PPG of his career. His most common teammates have been Jordan Martinook and Steven Lorentz which Kotkaniemi played with for 12.5% of the time. This line has been decent, having an xGF% of 62.5%, which is the third-highest among forward lines on the team.
Last season, Jesperi Kotkaniemi played for the Canadiens and his most frequent teammates were Josh Anderson and Jonathan Drouin. This trio was decent: scoring more goals than they allowed and had more chances in relation to the opposing lines. Kotkaniemei was sheltered less compared to this season, as out of his total ice time, he played 35.6% against “Elite” competition. Similar to this season, he was effective against them, posting a DFF% over 50%. Overall, against all competition, he had good underlying numbers, having a CF% and xGF% over 50%. Production-wise he didn’t produce much, scoring 15 points in 56 games. However, he only had a 5.7 shooting percentage, which is the lowest in his career so far.
In the playoffs, his team made a magical run and made the Stanley Cup finals. Kotkanimei didn’t contribute much to the run, not appearing on the score sheet often, with only eight points in 19 games. On top of that, his underlying numbers at even-strength indicate that he hasn’t been making an impact. Both his CF% and xGF% were both under 50%. However, he is pretty young and he scored nine goals (total amount in 2020 and 2021 playoffs) before the age of 21. The only other NHL players to do that are Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi has put up good underlying numbers against all types of competition so far this season. This is likely due to playing lower in the lineup and facing weaker competition more often. However, right before the COVID shutdown, Kotkanimei went on a mini-point streak, something rarely seen from him. It will be interesting to see if he can keep this up once games resume again. If Kotkanimei continues to perform well, he may force his coach’s hand and end up playing more often. As a former third overall pick, there are those in the hockey world that are disappointed in his lack of production so far. But this could change if he continues to play as he did right before the COVID shutdown.