Should the Vancouver Canucks target Hurricanes forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi?

Photo credit:Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
20 days ago
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Martin Necas wasn’t the only Carolina Hurricanes forward that Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman discussed on 32 Thoughts – The Podcast early on Friday morning. Except this time, it was less about his potential to be a Vancouver Canuck. 
“I did have someone say to me that they were willing to bet me a nice steak dinner that there’s no way Carolina buys out [Jesperi] Kotkaniemi,” Friedman said. “They think they’ve got a player there, and they’ve just got to figure out how to make it work.”
Do they think they have a player there, though? Because actions speak louder than words, and the Hurricanes’ actions of giving him 11 minutes of ice time during their playoff run definitely doesn’t back up their belief in the player. Now, he’s still just 23 years old with a lot more time to grow, but time’s ticking.
However, I do believe Friedman’s statement that Carolina isn’t interested in buying him out. There’s a strong chance he’s made available on the trade market rather than paying him not to play for your team. Considering the Hurricanes have 14 players to re-sign — who all need raises — while having just $27.35M of cap space to work with, freeing up Kotkaniemi’s $4.82M would go a long way to bringing back players who are actually contributing.
Kotkaniemi was also speculated to be a part of the trade with Necas for Elias Pettersson, so it’s not out of the ordinary to hear his name come up in Vancouver Canucks rumours. But with his poor production at that speed of a cap hit, does that make sense for the Canucks?

Is Kotkaniemi a fit in Vancouver?

Kotkaniemi was a Montreal Canadiens first-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft, four picks ahead of Vancouver’s beloved Quinn Hughes. He was drafted third overall, which was a little higher than anticipated. Montreal was in desperate need of a centreman, so they chose to draft for need over best player available. And he’s just never lived up to the draft selection.
If you forget how the Hurricanes acquired Kotkaniemi, let me refresh your memory. 
On July 1st, 2019, the Canadiens gave Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho an offer sheet, which the Hurricanes immediately matched. While these offer sheets are still legal, they’re certainly frowned upon in the GM world. This caused a little bit of a feud between the two clubs, and when Montreal had the restricted free agent due for a contract, the Hurricanes got their revenge — except this time, it was permanent revenge. 
Carolina signed Kotkaniemi to a one-year, six-million dollar-per-year deal, which was much more than his worth, considering he had 62 points in 171 games up until that point. Unwilling to match this offer, Montreal took the first and third-round pick compensation and officially lost the battle with Carolina. Maybe the most petty part of this all was that the Hurricanes gave Kotkaniemi a $20 signing bonus. Sebastian Aho wears number 20. 
With 398 NHL games of experience under his belt, Kotkaniemi has 64 goals and 161 total points. Those are some pretty disappointing numbers for a third-overall pick. Kotkaniemi showed some promise last season, registering a career-high 18 goals and 47 points, but he followed that up with a disappointing 12-goal, 27-point outing this season.
Like Necas, Kotkaniemi struggled to find consistent linemates this season, playing no longer than 100 minutes with the same linemates at 5-on-5. He averaged the second-fewest amount of time on ice per game in any season of his career and had fewer points than in his rookie season. 
When Kotkaniemi was drafted, Mitch Brown of the Athletic described the Finnish centreman as “A skilled but direct forward who has flashes, but his success is due to his directness. He takes the puck to the net and will plow through players who try to stop him.”
I feel that description has carried over from his draft year to his NHL career. Here’s a clip of Kotkaniemi doing just that: taking the puck from below the net to the front, and his team gets rewarded with a goal.
Something I found interesting that I didn’t realize Kotkaniemi brought was his physicality. While he only had 49 hits this season, he passed the century mark last season with 105 and has accrued 429 hits in his 398 games played. He finished ninth in hits from the forward core this season but was third in hits last season, proving that despite a down year, physicality is still a part of his game. 
With his 6’2, 201-lb frame, he can certainly throw the body, which is perfect for a middle-six role. 
As I try to map out where I can see Kotkaniemi fitting in on the Canucks, it makes me think he would look great in between Dakota Joshua and Conor Garland as the third-line centre. Canucks fans have seen what these two can do to snap players out of their funk, I.E., Elias Lindholm and Teddy Blueger.
What made Teddy Blueger so successful on the Joshua and Garland line? He was great at crashing the net, hanging around the slot area ready for a pass while Joshua and Garland did their cycle work along the backboards. Kotkaniemi has shown he can use his big frame to crash the net and has more finishing prowess than Blueger.
While I’m starting to like the idea, there’s so much more to go into it. And maybe the biggest thing is that Kotkaniemi needs to HIT. Plus, I’m not sure paying $4.82M for a third-line centre is quite the direction the Canucks can afford to go right now. Especially if you add that money to Garland’s $4.95M, which is an expensive third line, and that’s only two-thirds of it. 
Could you send some money out to subsidize the amount you’re taking in? Perhaps, but I’m not sold on that. Carolina is very much a contender; taking on unnecessary money doesn’t make sense to them. 
And say they were to agree to a deal, does that even make sense for the Canucks at this point? To go out and trade for an overpaid, underperforming centreman with six years remaining on his contract, who averaged just 12:58 minutes of ice time last season? When they have so many players to re-sign who have proven their worth in this Rick Tocchet system.
I’ll ask you, Canucks fans. Do you want the Canucks to try and acquire Jesperi Kotkaniemi? And what would you be comfortable with trading away?
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