While the Carolina Hurricanes season ended in disappointment, the team had a lot to be proud of. Now in the offseason, tough decisions will be made, and management will work to put the team in a place to succeed next season. In the meantime, we will take a look back at individual players’ seasons and see how they did. For the Carolina Hurricanes offseason grades, today we look at Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Carolina Hurricanes Offseason Grade: Jesperi Kotkaniemi
The Carolina Hurricanes picked up Jesperi Kotkaniemi utilizing the infamous offer sheet method in 2021. A former Montreal Canadiens third overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Kotkaniemi is a 6′ 2″ 201-pound centre and another Finnish Hurricanes player. With any player drafted that high, expectations are big for Kotkaniemi. He plays a two-way game that is very similar to Jordan Staal with a little more offensive ability and a little less shutdown ability. A lot of his goal-scoring comes in front of the net with tips and rebounds. Notably, he scored the first goal in the 2023 Stadium Series Game. For better or worse, Carolina has put faith in Kotkaniemi to ideally be a second-line centre, or, if not, a really good third-line centre. He signed an eight-year deal with Carolina in 2022.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s Regular Season
Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s 2022-23 regular season was very much a tale of two cities. Overall, he hit career highs in goals with 18, assists with 25 and points with 43. In the faceoff circle, he was 51.43%. Even to be a defensive forward, he had 48 giveaways compared to 29 takeaways. For special teams, Kotkaniemi was utilized on both the powerplay and penalty kill. He scored 11 powerplay points, three powerplay goals and one shorthanded goal.
However, his point accumulation was not evenly spread throughout the year. Coming into a new contract and with the departure of second-line centre Vincent Trocheck, Carolina had large expectations for Kotkaniemi. He started the year as the second-line centre between Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas. That line played the second most games of any forward line with 43. While Kotkaniemi was helping create space for Necas and Svechnikov to both start hot, he did not fall in line. From October through the end of December, Kotkaniemi only put up six goals and 12 points, largely driven by his December play. Due to these struggles, the Hurricanes utilized Paul Stastny for many games in the second-line centre slot and put Kotkaniemi back on the fourth line. But then 2023 came around and Kotkaniemi picked up his play. From January through the end of the season, Kotkaniemi had 12 goals and 31 points. He was one of the team’s best-performing forwards over that span and many times drove the team.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s Playoffs
In the playoffs, Kotkaniemi cooled off from his late season run. He had three goals and four assists including one powerplay goal. Much like the rest of the team, he had more success earlier in the playoffs before the Eastern Conference Finals. His point totals were largely middle of the pack for the team. However, his expected goals percentage was near the bottom of the team. He also dropped in faceoff percentage with 41.18%. Kotkaniemi played in the second-line centre role for the duration of the playoffs and was utilized on the powerplay and penalty kill as well. But again, his production was not where the team would have liked based on expectations and reliance for team success.
Kotkaniemi overall had a solid season to be fair, but he did not quite perform up to expectations. The team needed him to truly perform as a consistent second-line centre. His overall points totals for the season put him in line with the likes of Barrett Hayton and Scott Laughton. However, Trocheck last year had 51 points including 20 goals. So, the drop-off in points between Trocheck and Kotkanimei is not drastic, but it is a drop on a team moving forward. Trocheck also had ten points in the playoffs last year in one less game than Kotkaniemi so the playoff performances were pretty equal.
Had we looked at January to April, Kotkaniemi would have received a fairly decent grade. However, the team needs Kotkanimei for a full season and the playoffs, not a fraction. It is also possible that Carolina’s bet on Kotkaniemi pays off long term and he keeps progressing at a high level, but that is to be seen and not a factor for this grade. The reality is Kotkaniemi showed flashes where he can be the player this team expects, but overall missed the mark.
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