Next season, the Carolina Hurricanes will have a major hole in the lineup. With the team’s second-line center exiting the organization in free agency, Jesperi Kotkaniemi is going to be tasked with becoming a genuine top-six center. There are a lot of people outside of the organization and the fanbase that aren’t sure about Kotkaniemi’s ability to play that role for a Stanley Cup contender like the Hurricanes.
During his time in Quebec with the Montreal Canadiens, Kotkaniemi played a big role for the organization as they reached the Stanley Cup Final in his third and final year in the French-speaking part of Canada. However, this was as a 3C and he succeeded at just 20 years of age. But now, he’s being asked to be a bigger part of a better team for a longer period of time and there are a lot of questions.
Since arriving in Raleigh, Kotkaniemi has set a career-high in goals, and in points per game rate. He would have set a new career high in points had he not been on the receiving end of a braindead hit from a Washington Capital at the end 6-1 blowout in Washington with just three seconds left in the game. In his only other game of the regular season, Kotkaniemi sought revenge and had a 3-point 1st period against New Jersey in the season finale.
At just 22, Kotkaniemi has already experienced more than most players will in their entire lifetime. Signing an offer sheet is rare enough, but an unmatched offer sheet is almost unheard of. He’s been the subject of criticism for years from the Montreal fanbase and now, after being rushed into the NHL and underdeveloped, he’s now working under one of the best two-way centermen in the history of the league as he is asked to fill a major hole in the top-six of one of the Stanley Cup favorites.
Can he do it? Yes. If nothing else, we have learned KK is going to approach any challenge head-on and try to solve the issue by just working hard. If he keeps working, there’s a lot of natural talent there. He might not hit the ground running, but he’ll get there. He just has to keep working hard. Plus, it’s not like he’s doing this all alone, he will be between two very respected and talented wingers with a lot of scoring talent. He’s in a good position.