RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It became official on Saturday: Jesperi Kotkaniemi is a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
The price was steep to pry the 21-year-old forward from the Montreal Canadiens. The ‘Canes had to give up their first- and third-round picks in the 2022 draft. They’re also paying Kotkaniemi more than $6 million on his one-year deal.
A few boxes need to be ticked for this move to be considered a win for the Hurricanes.
First, Kotkaniemi needs to sign with the team beyond the 2021-22 season.
He isn’t eligible for an extension until January, though, which should give general manager Don Waddell and his staff plenty of time to evaluate his fit in the organization and what salary would be reasonable over a longer-term deal. It’s hard to imagine Kotkaniemi, who last season had 20 points in 56 games, will command the same $6.1 million salary he’ll make this upcoming season.
The ‘Canes seem to already have an idea of where he’s going to fit into the lineup.
That makes sense as Waddell said Kotkaniemi had been on the team’s radar since before the 2018 draft when he was taken third overall — just after Andrei Svechnikov.
“We believe he will flourish in Rod Brind’Amour’s system and culture, and he will be an important piece of what we are building in Carolina for years to come,” Waddell said in a press release Saturday.
Kotkaniemi’s immediate role in Brind’Amour’s system is on the left wing.
In Montreal, he spent much of last season at center. At even strength, Kotkaniemi spent the most time between Josh Anderson and Jonathan Drouin, although Drouin also played center occasionally.
Taking a player who is projected to one day be a center and letting him develop first as a winger is what Carolina did with Sebastian Aho and is currently doing with Martin Necas.
The ‘Canes have to be banking on Kotkaniemi developing into a top-six center — hopefully within the next two years. That would give them flexibility with Vincent Trocheck’s contracting ending after this season and Jordan Staal’s coming up after 2022-23. It would also give them the ability to be more patient with the development of other promising forwards like Ryan Suzuki.
If Kotkaniemi grows into the player he was projected to be when he was drafted third overall in 2018, and he remains in Carolina’s organization long term, then the Hurricanes will have added a highly intelligent playmaker capable of centering one of their top two lines and leading a power-play unit.
The price they paid upfront was steep, but it’s not every day a team is able to add a 21-year-old forward with potential like Kotkaniemi’s. Only time will tell if this move helps the Hurricanes toward being a Stanley Cup contender for years to come.