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Frozen Frames: Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s stellar performance versus the Leafs’ top players

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Kotkaniemi didn’t slow down against the Leafs best elements, continuing to make the right plays and to show a lot promise.

NHL: Preseason-Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The goal of this series is not to only present highlights or the great sequences of players on a given night, but also what is asked out of them in specific situations.

There is a distinction that has to be made when analyzing a prospect making his first steps in the NHL; the little things that this young player manages to get right or do as well as experienced players are absolutely impressive. They become highlights of their own.

While the usage of deception to open passing lanes is a common thing on a power play for many top forwards, it is uncommon to do it so effectively in your first few games in a new league. Good defensive positioning is expected for an experienced NHL players. It is unexpected for a prospect who just turned 18 years old to fulfill the difficult role of a centre, especially after only playing on a smaller ice surface for a few weeks.

In other words, while the skills presented might sometimes be unremarkable for another player (independent of the importance of those plays in a game), they are not in the case of Kotkaniemi. Those elements, like his good 200-foot game, are also not the only things that define the third overall pick, but are added to the very exciting plays that he manages to pull off on a nightly basis, making for a very rich collection of talents.

He again played some great games against the Leafs on Monday and Wednesday, showing that he belonged and earning himself a spot on the opening night roster. At times in those contests, he was even arguably the Montreal Canadiens’ most dangerous forward.

There is no clear weakness in Kotkaniemi’s game. Some aspects of it he can work on for sure, but nothing that stands out as a large issue. I thought his skating would hold him back more than it has as of now, but it hasn’t really been a factor for him. Even if he can’t explode out of tight spaces, he is already displaying relatively good puck protection ability considering his age. He also tries to work around his lack of quickness by trying to manipulate defenders to create space.

He isn’t very strong, but doesn’t shy away from battles. As he can’t hold his own for long in front of the net, he tends to time himself to get in the slot at the right time to screen for a shot or try for a deflection. This should continue to be a trend for the Finnish centre: his ability to control the game opening the play up for him that others get by dominating with their physicality or speed.

It remains to be seen if Kotkaniemi can continue to display the same level of performance when the regular season starts, but at this point, I don’t see any reason to bet against him.

His quality of competition will improve, but as he proves time and time again, so will he.

Extended highlights and analysis of Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s play versus the Toronto Maple Leafs (games 1 and 2).

Suggestions are welcome to improve this new analysis format that is becoming an ongoing series of articles. Voice-over was not included in this video, but might be in the future.