With Ässät this season, Jesperi Kotkaniemi would have manned the half-wall on the power play; evident from the sole preseason game the Finnish team broadcasted before the departure of their projected top centre. He was seen quarterbacking the offence from there, and there were already some impressive flashes even in the limited time he had to showcase his talent.
It is easy to see why this position suits him. He is a highly intelligent player, skilled, and, most of all, can make great use of deception to open scoring chances for himself and others. He’s capable of faking shots and passes alike and orchestrating many different set plays with this talent.
Kotkaniemi was used for a time in the same position for the Montreal Canadiens, but with their lack of success, the coaching staff moved him around, trying him at the goal line and in the middle of their formation.
The centreman can do many things, but quick releases in tight aren’t (yet) his mastery. He uses a long stick and is lanky himself. Plus, he might be able to thread the puck through legs and stickhandle close to his body, but doesn’t have the stability and strength to attack the net from the near post consistently.
No, against the Senators, Kotkaniemi proved once again that he belongs as a play driver on the half-wall. This is where he is the most effective, and where his vision, the threat of his shot and his incredible poise can generate the most scoring chances.
He froze the defence repeatedly, managed passes through the defensive formation to the front of the net, and also came close to piercing the armour of Mike McKenna a few times with his hard release.
Kotkaniemi in possession of the puck on the half-wall provided the best flashes Montreal had in the game with the man advantage. They should repeat the experience.