Coming out of last summer, there were a lot of new faces in the City of Oaks. Without a shadow of a doubt, the one that attracted the most attention was Jesperi Kotkaniemi who came to Carolina after an offer sheet that was subjected to ridicule and speculation. However, there was a player included in this offer sheet so how did Jesperi Kotkaniemi fare during his first season as a member of the Hurricanes?
Well, back in October, the idea was to try Kotkaniemi as a winger. He had played left-wing before during his time with the Montreal organization and it seemed like it was worth trying the Pori, Finland native out on a line with the other Finnish forwards. He scored his first goal as a Hurricane on that line and in poetic fashion, that happened at the Centre Bell or the Bell Center in Montreal.
He had some good performances but struggled for the most part and was still a non-option in the top six, but the team started hot so all was forgiven and forgotten. More was needed from the Canes’ newest addition, and that came when the Hurricanes headed out west. For the game in Vegas, Kotkaniemi would not be playing on the wing. He’d move to his preferred position down the middle.
This move back to his natural position made him become a lot more threatening almost instantly. Carolina’s depth became a strength and as Kotkaniemi started to heat up, the team would do so. These things are not directly related, but his personal ebbs and flows of this season seemed to echo that of the organization. When he was hot, the team was. When he was cold, so was the team. Consistency is going to be something he needs to work on.
In mid-December, the Hurricanes organization had a lot of people end up on the COVID-19 reserve. That’s not a big deal, but almost everyone in the top six was out and Kotkaniemi was thrust into a 2C position. He would respond with four points in those two games and be a big reason the Hurricanes took wins in both of the games without the top half of their forward core.
Kotkaniemi would be placed on the COVID-19 protocol list himself coming out of the all-star break and would miss a few games, but he was a consistent piece of the Canes juggernaut roster until March when Kotkaniemi would be the unfortunate recipient of a bush-league play when the team visited their rivals and their former Southeastern division rivals in the Washington Capitals in late March.
On March 28th, Carolina was cruising past their bitter opponents in the Nations Capital by a score of 6-1 with two seconds left in the game when Jesperi Kotkaniemi was on the wrong side of a dumb play by a Washington player. Kotkaniemi would injure his leg and would need help leaving the ice. He would not see game time until the final game of the season in which he returned with three points in his first period back.
He didn’t have a significantly memorable playoff run so was it worth it based on one season of Jesperi Kotkaniemi? Yes. He’s extended now for the next eight years at $4.82 million. He’s going to have to play a bigger role in the future, but after setting a new career-high in goals this year during his first time in Carolina in a significantly reduced number of games, he’s been good in my humble opinion.