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2018 NHL Draft Profile: Jesperi Kotkaniemi

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NHL teams often undervalue European league skaters; San Jose should leverage that.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi Draft Profile
Jesperi Kotkaniemi is playing well against guys much older than he is

Jesperi Kotkaniemi is the ranked ninth among European league skaters by NHL’s Central Scouting. He’s ranked anywhere from 14th to 25th by other prominent scouting services. An industry consensus from Jeremy Davis of Canucks Army includes those scouting services, as well as a number of draft “experts.” That consensus ranking offers Kotkaniemi as the #21-ranked skater overall.

This season, Kotkaniemi is scoring .46 points per game in the Finnish Liiga, as a 17-year-old playing against men. That number makes him the 16th-highest U18 scorer in the Liiga, all time. If you remove the four players who only played in a handful of games, he moves up to 12th place in that category. That’s pretty impressive, even if his production isn’t quite in the league of superstars near the top of the list.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi Liiga scoring
Kotkaniemi is in exciting company
eliteprospects.com

In the Finnish junior league, Kotkaniemi was similarly productive (albeit in fewer games). Those stats show his U16 season. He improved from a .65 point-per-game player to a .88 point-per-game player in his U17 season.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi played well in Finnish juniors
Kotkaniemi was a solid junior player, too
eliteprospects.com

The article at Canucks Army also shows you how players in this year’s draft class rank according to the prospect evaluation model Davis created. His Situational, Era, Age, and League (SEAL) scoring adjustment, per usual, stands on the shoulders of giants before him. The model, like other prospect evaluation tools, attempts to adjust for things like a player’s age, league, and situational performance (eg., 5v5 vs PP), in an attempt to compare the production of players who play in a variety of different leagues.

Davis has also created a model — the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System (pGPS) — that compares players to others with statistically similar profiles, historically, to determine the likelihood he plays at least 200 NHL games.

The model shows that 59 percent of the players with similar profiles to Kotkaniemi have gone on to become NHL regulars. His model finds the value Kotkaniemi would return a team is about that of a top-10 pick (according to last year’s draft).

Rob Vollman developed a version of NHLe (NHL equivalencies), to estimate how many points a player would score were he to jump from his current league directly to the NHL the next season. Ian Tulloch revisited those numbers and found that European leagues were potentially not receiving their proper due for their difficulty of competition.

Kotkaniemi could be expected to retain about 60 percent of his current scoring rate were he to jump directly to the NHL next season. 0.60*.46 points per game = .276 (his scoring rate in the NHL)* 82 games in a season = about 22 points. The list of players since 2000-01 who have scored at least .27 points per game as an 18 year old (more than 11 games played) is short and distinguished:

Of course, it’s distinguished because the only people to play full seasons as 18-year-olds are stars, for the most part. This comparison is just to show you the .27 points per game (.28, really) NHLe given Kotkaniemi’s age is exciting.

Strengths

Finally, some fancy stats. Simo Teperi, a hockey and sports analyst has collected Liiga shot information and generated an expected goals model. He found that Kotkaniemi, as of November, didn’t drive shot differential terribly well but helped his team generate a lot of dangerous chances.

A closer look at that table shows a player who:

  • Plays with slightly worse teammates than the competition he faces
  • Starts in the offensive and defensive zone at about the same rate
  • Still has a relatively positive (if small) impact on shot differential
  • Is scoring 5v5 primary points at the rate of a first-liner, despite receiving third-line minutes

All that presents a statistical snapshot of player who has an exciting ceiling.

Of course, numbers aren’t the only thing that matters in prospecting prospects. The paper, “Text Mining of Scouting Reports as a Novel Data Source for Improving NHL Draft Analytics” explains the attempts of analysts Michael Schuckers, Timo Seppa, and Mike Rovito to locate what they call the “Holy Grail of sports analytics”: combining stats with regular old scouting. This study addresses how players might fare migrating from their current league to the AHL, because most NHLers pass through the minor professional league, first.

The three analysts combed through historical scouting reports and captured the different descriptors scouts used when discussing prospects’ potentials. They recorded which descriptors matched up with top-6 profiles and which were more likely to signal a player who would end up as just a depth player. They only looked at CHL skaters because that is the junior league the majority of draft picks come from. Extrapolating onto other leagues the results of this paper using the limited information provided in the paper might be a foolish exercise. The exercise at least provides someone with no knowledge of scouting hockey players a basis for determining the value potentially hidden in scouting reports.

We’re looking for words that might signal a top-6 AHLer or a “power forward,” including those which could fit into these groups:

  • Good puck skills
  • Good release
  • Good skating
  • Good vision
  • Good accuracy
  • Good net drive
  • Good puck protection
  • Good shooting and scoring
  • Good puck battles

From The Draft Analyst:

“Good speed,” “quick hands,” “keen vision,” “quite creative with the puck,” “excellent shot/release combination,” “excellent awareness and anticipation,” “heavily involved in puck battles.”

From Pucks for Breakfast:

“A fantastic skater with good smarts and a dangerous shot,” “Solid frame combined with an insightful game vision and powerful skating,” “sees the game exceptionally well.”

From Future Considerations:

“Quick, skilled hands with the puck,” “sneaky quick release.”

From Recrutes:

“Very good puck handling skills. He’s a skilled, deft stickhandler,” “impressive hockey sense.”

From Last Word on Hockey Prospects:

“Playing a power game,” “drive to the front of the net,” “good playmaker, with good vision and passing skills,” “has the stickhandling ability to protect the puck.”

Areas of Improvement

A few of the scouring reports describe how Kotkaniemi can be bodied off the puck too easily and needs to fill out, perhaps an unsurprising revelation given his stronger, more filled-out competition. One scouting report was leery of Kotkaniemi being an inconsistent player and not always strong enough on the puck. He can improve the impact he has on his team’s shot differential. One would imagine that being stronger on the puck is part of that equation.

He seems to lack the high-end scoring of sure-fire studs like Patrick Laine and Sasha Barkov, but his production fits in nicely with impressive youngsters Artturi Lehkonen and Jesse Puljujarvi (who are both currently top-5 among NHL forwards in individual expected goals scored per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time) and Sebastian Aho, who is approaching his second, 20-goal season in as many NHL years.

Kotkaniemi might be too much of a power forward-type of player to offer the kind of razzle dazzle we see from guys like Mathew Barzal, but he doesn’t have quite the hard-nose scouting profile Timo Meier had during his draft year.

Highlight

As Steve mentions, Kotkaniemi gets open for his teammate in the neutral zone then calmly finds his teammate for a royal road pass that is essentially a tip-in goal. He didn’t do anything overly ridiculous, but players who can make the right play most of the time, whether flashy or otherwise, tend to positively impact their teams.

Here’s a whole highlight reel of his play.

Kotkaniemi’s numbers and scouting profile both look promising. While Kotkaniemi may not have super star upside, he should certainly be able to return plenty of value on a late first-round selection this summer.