At mid-season, I gave Jesperi Kotkaniemi a C-. About halfway through the second half of the season, I gave KK some credit for turning things around. Then, from somewhere, Kotkaniemi kicked in another gear. His performance in the playoffs was elite. But, just how elite?
I am going to first look at the second half of the year for KK. What will see what that in fact his second half was on the very cusp of elite status. Then for comparison’s sake, I am going to look at the fourth best goal scorer of all the teams that scored more goals than the Hurricanes in the regular season.
At the All-Star Break, Jesperi Kotkaniemi had 16 points for the year. He would finish February with 4 goals and 3 assists. With 3 goals and an elite 8 helpers in March he has already come close to half his first half point total. April’s 4 goal, 3 assist performance helped push the Hurricanes over the finish line to win the Metro Division and finish 2nd in the Eastern Conference.
The last two months were so good for KK that he tied his goal total for the first 4 months of the regular season. If you count in his 3 post season goals, the last 4 months of season were nearly double his first four.
It will certainly be interesting to see what Jesperi Kotkaniemi is able to improve over the off season, and what his numbers are next year. Should he replicate his second half of this season, and develop more, by the All-Star Break next season he will be in All-Star contention.
Solid year to year improvement to say the least.
But is it fair to bring KK’s numbers into the “Elite” conversation just yet?
We can see!
The Carolina Hurricanes scored 262 goals in the regular season, placing the team 15th in the league. In the playoffs, they notched 46. Those 46 goals put them 4th of the teams in the post season. Jesperi Kotkaniemi was the fourth highest scorer for Carolina with 18 regular season goals and 3 in the postseason.
Comparing KK against the 4th highest scorer on the elite goal scoring machines in the NHL, we see that he is towards the bottom. Only Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights and J.T. Compher of the Colorado Avalanche are lower.
Where Kotkaniemi separates himself was in the goal department is his playoff run with the Hurricanes into the Eastern Conference Finals. Though KK was shut out against the Florida Panther, he still tallied 3 post season goals. Compared to the other goal scores on the elite teams, Kotkaniemi is tied for 4th with Dawson Mercer, and Mitchell Marner at 3 goals a piece.
In comparison to other teams Kotkaniemi would rank as an elite scorer across the board. The Chicago Blackhawks had just two 20 goal scorers for 82 games. And as we have seen had the season kept going, it is very likely that KK would have had more than his 21 goals on the season.
Moving forward, Jesperi Kotkaniemi can continue his improvement, and build yet another career year. It is completely in the realm of possibility that KK makes a solid case for All-Star votes next season. At the very least, we will be seeing more production and filling as his role will solidify.