There are expectations, but there is also reality. Since the day of his draft in 2018, Jesperi Kotkaniemi has embodied the future in Montreal. Described as the first future place Canadians look for for moons.
Also read: Confidence and optimism by Eric Stahl
Usually the third public choice in the draft brings a lot of dreams and hopes. This is the case with Kotkaniemi.
But it was also a similar story with Alex Galchenyuk, third pick in the 2012 session. Before knowing if the bud turns into a pretty flower, it takes time and patience. And sometimes expectations turn into disappointment, as is the case with Galchenyuk.
At 20 years old, Kotkaniemi had several years before him to establish himself as a good position in the NHL. And CH still imagines him as the centerpiece of the team’s future with Nick Suzuki at the center.
We must always remain careful in analyzing the potential of the young player. But in his third season in the National Hockey League, the Finn has not launched yet, especially offensively, with only 20 points (5 goals, 15 assists) in 48 games.
Dominic Ducharme recalls: “Even if this is his third season, we must not forget that he is still a young player. We see progress in his game this year. For young people the hardest is consistency. KK knows that too. When you have a good start, skates well and gets in. In his encounters, you will notice it very early in the match. If he is engaged, he will have more space to take pictures. This is how he succeeds. He should be able to repeat it night after night. “
Like the Habs, Kotkaniemi hit a wall for several weeks. He has not scored any goals in his last 16 matches, and has only had four assists.
“Yes, it’s tough. I realized the number 15. The most important thing for me is winning matches. Mentally, it’s also hard to play a lot. We’ve been playing a game every day for a long time. I have to find solutions to be good and to be successful.”
Among the short-term solutions, it is clear that there will be a change of attitude. For the third time this season, Kotaniemi is expected to play as a winger. On April 7 and 8, he received a two-match test on the right winger to replace Brendan Gallagher at his side.
Philip Danault and Thomas Tatar.
This time, he will find himself on the left flank with Danault and Josh Anderson. It was one of the four new lines Ducharme created on the eve of the match against the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell Center.
While recruiting due to his strength in the center center, Kotkaniemi had nothing against the idea of temporary change.
“I would like to use my shot more. When I play on the wing, I feel I have more time to take shots and generate attack. In the center, there are more defensive responsibilities. I’ll try to provoke things.”
Ducharme spoke of the challenge of consistency for a young man like Kotaniemi. It has been said hundreds of times that he is still very young at the age of 20. And it is true. But the big stars in the NHL often found ways to be productive at a young age. A good example is found inside the Habs locker room.
Second public selection in 2003, after goalkeeper Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Stahl quickly reached the rank of an elite player. In his third professional season, Staal achieved the magic 100-point plateau (45 goals, 55 assists) with Carolina Hurricanes.
In that 2005–2006 campaign, Stahl had turned 21 in October and the year before he played 77 matches for Lowell in the MLS due to the NHL shutdown. Developmentally speaking, it was not the same as Kotkaniemi.
“It’s easy today to say it was a good thing for me to play in AHL,” said Stahl. But we can’t really say, there has never been a season in the NHL. At the time, that worked fine for me. I played big minutes in Major League Soccer, and I had a role like the juniors. I gained confidence when I got back to Carolina. For a young player, the pace and detail of the game make a difference. It is very important to be effective in all settings. You have to earn the trust of the coaches. And when you get there, you get more gaming time and you can use your talents to create and score if you are a goalscorer. In his third season in Carolina, Staal played nearly 20 minutes (19:39) on average, while Kotkaniemi had 15 minutes (14:56). But without taking anything from Kotkaniemi, Staal was more raw talent of the same age.