Jesperi Kotkaniemi's defensive skills are underestimated

Published September 8, 2021 at 7:42 PM

During his three seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Jesperi Kotkaniemi did not receive the credit he deserved. He was often pointed out for the mistakes he made, even though he was a developing player.

The defensive aspect of his game has not been praised enough since his arrival on North American soil. We know that KK has tantalizing offensive potential, hence his third overall selection in the 2018 draft. The Hurricanes are well aware of this, hence the hostile offer they made to KK.

In Kotkaniemi, the Canes will have a talented young forward, sure, but they will have a player who can play good hockey over 200 feet. He will have good mentors to help him perfect his overall game in the Hurricanes lineup, including Jordan Staal, but the Finn already has a great foundation.

According to advanced statistics released by renowned media Instat Hockey, in 2020-2021 Kotkaniemi finished in the top-20 of forwards with the most takeaways per 60 minutes. He is tied at 16th on that list with a certain Patrice Bergeron, who is one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. You can even find Nick Suzuki one spot above Kotkaniemi and Bergeron.

Remember that in his draft year, Kotkaniemi was often compared to Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar. Number 11 has long been considered one of the best defensive forwards in the league, hence his two Selke Trophy wins, awarded to the best defensive forward, in 2016 and 2018.

KK may not have been developing at the rate the Habs would have liked, but it must be said that he still had his uses in the lineup. Sometimes a player's contribution to a lineup is far more important than his stats on the scoresheet. It makes you wonder if the Montreal Canadiens really look at advanced stats, as most NHL teams do in 2021. Advanced stats may not offer all the answers, but they can be very helpful in making an assessment.
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