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Now that the initial surprise of an offer sheet being tendered – then not matched – has worn off, it’s worthwhile to set expectations for what Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s first season with the Carolina Hurricanes could look like.
As I had noted in a previous article, it was likely that Kotkaniemi could end up starting the year on the wing, which was also seemingly confirmed by general manager Don Waddell. While we don’t know who Kotkaniemi may play with, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the top line split up and the team go with three more even forward lines.
Kotkaniemi ranked eighth in even strength ice time amongst Canadiens’ forwards last season, averaging 12:53 per game. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him around a similar range this year, given that the Hurricanes have retained their top seven forwards in ice time from last season, losing mainly just Warren Foegele and Brock McGinn, who averaged 13:02 and 12:46 per game respectively at even strength.
It’ll also be interesting to see how much Kotkaniemi is used on the Hurricanes power play. He averaged nearly two minutes per game on the man advantage with Montreal this past season but didn’t kill penalties, while Carolina’s notable offseason losses in Foegele and McGinn were each used on the penalty kill, but not the power play. It’s likely we could see him used on the second unit.
As for production, here are Kotkaniemi’s goals, points and shots per 82 averages over his three NHL seasons:
2018-19: 11 G/82, 35 P/82, 139 S/82
2019-20: 14 G/82, 18 P/82, 125 S/82
2020-21: 7 G/82, 29 P/82, 127 S/82
Something to note is that the lack of goals this past season came, at least in part, from an extremely low shooting percentage of just 5.7 per cent. If that shooting percentage had been up around 9.5 per cent, which is relatively average, Kotkaniemi would have been on pace for 12 goals and 34 points per 82 games. Those still aren’t great numbers, but it’s closer to a general range of between 10 and 15 goals.
If the lines are split to start the year, Kotkaniemi could benefit from playing with some of the top forwards the Hurricanes have to offer. Depending on who he spends the majority of his season with, we could see him boost his production. In my opinion, it would be a success if Kotkaniemi could reach around 15 goals and 40 points.
Kotkaniemi is still just 21 years old and still has a ton of time to develop. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s utilized, but ideally, we'll see him take a step with the Hurricanes this season.
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OTHER ARTICLES FROM SEPTEMBER
Where could Jesperi Kotkaniemi fit in the Hurricanes’ lineup?
Hurricanes name Tim Gleason as assistant coach
Canadiens won't match offer sheet, Jesperi Kotkaniemi to join Hurricanes
Jake Gardiner expected to miss 2021-22 season