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What to expect from Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s Liiga stint

The centreman begins his 2020-21 season on Saturday. Experts offer their projections for his time in Finland’s top league.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

With Jesperi Kotkaniemi making his season debut for Ässät on Saturday, it seemed prudent to ask some Finns about whet they thought Kotkaniemi would be able to achieve in Liiga during his time in his native country before the NHL starts up again.

First we turned to Pekka Jalonen, journalist at Iltalehti, one of the major papers in Finland.

“Kotkaniemi should dominate games up to a certain level as the Finnish league is even worse than last year. Look at Vitaly Abramov (Ottawa Senators): two games, four goals, and he is just a prospect. Look at Aleksi Saarela (Lukko): six games and six goals, and he has only nine NHL games under his belt and doesn’t have a contract for next season. Petri Kontiola (HPK) has 10 points in seven games and he was not good enough to play for Jokerit; they didn’t offer him a contract and he was a healthy scratch during the playoffs last spring.”

Expectations are high when you compare the Montreal Canadiens centre to players that have performed in Liiga this season. Still, it might be prudent to expect a transition period for Kotkaniemi as he learns to play with new teammates and in a new system.

Miika Arponen of FinnProspects offers up his view:

“Obviously difficult to say how fast Kotkaniemi would be able to produce at his ‘own rate,’ but I think it would be completely reasonable to expect for him to be Ässät’s clear-cut number-one centre, and to be at or at least near the point-per-game mark. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t get to run the power-play unit.”

Jokke Nevalainen, Head of European Scouting at Dobber Prospects adds:

“[Kotkaniemi] should be the number-one centre who runs their top power-play unit. He should be one of the best players in the league for sure. It will be a small sample size, [depending on how long he stays], so I wont guess any point per games numbers.”

The power-play time, if/when it happens, should be beneficial for the Canadiens, too. Being able to lead a unit should increase Kotkaniemi’s point totals, confidence, and playmaking skills. The added space and time should give him a better chance to distribute passes, and give him a chance to release his shot. However, it might mean that the tempo slows down, and the key to a good power play is the puck movement, so it’s important for Kotkaniemi to keep driving the speed of the puck and create movement for the defensive box.

With the uncertainty of when the NHL season will start it could just be a few games that Kotkaniemi plays for the Pori club, but Canadiens fans really should expect to see him on the ice a lot during his stint in Finland.