Trying to predict the future has always been a task impossible to do. Yet, there will always be people who will pretend to “know” it. Whether it’d be about the stock market, the weather or sports in general, you will always find those who will be self-appointed “experts” in the matter. While some of people’s predictions are based on tendencies, the reality is that no one can truly predict the future. And that, no matter their claim to fame. Truth being that there are too many factors potentially coming to change the data on hand at any given time.
The same can be said in hockey. Alex Galchenyuk scored 30 goals once. At the time, he was tagged by many as a 30-goals scorer in the NHL. We all know where that led to. On the other hand, NHL teams passed 57 times over Nikita Kucherov before Tampa Bay made him the 58th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
It is more so true when it comes to the NHL Draft. You have hundreds of scouts trying to compare a multitude of 17-18 year-olds playing in different leagues with different teammates at all six positions. Can you imagine? And this is the easy part of their job, which really isn’t easy at all. They must then try to predict their development. How good can these players get when they reach 23-27 years of age. Further, they must then compare that to all of the other players they watched as well. Talk about a task almost impossible to do.
No need to remind Habs’ fans the surprise, even outrage, when the Canadiens announced the selection of Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Some people wanted Brady Tkachuk, who was more NHL ready being 10 months older. For those who forgot, Kotkaniemi was the youngest player selected in that Draft. Most wanted Trevor Timmins to pick QMJHL’s own Filip Zadina.
Kotkaniemi surprisingly made the Canadiens roster immediately after being drafted by the team. All things considered, he had a decent season, tallying 11 goals and 34 points in his rookie season. His sophomore year wasn’t as good, a season which him being sent down to Laval in the AHL for 13 games after only managing six goals and eight points in 36 NHL games. With the Rocket, under the coaching of Joel Bouchard, KK had 13 points in as many games. Some pundits were complaining at the time that he only had one goal, proving once again how much nitpicking there is in this fan base.
When the NHL finally resumed, Kotkaniemi was not only kept on the Bubble roster, he was the team’s third line centre. He supplanted Max Domi, who had missed the first part of training camp. In playoffs’ hockey competition, when hockey is at its most intense, Kotkaniemi was a totally different player. When only facing playoffs’ bound teams, he was a beast compared to what we had seen from him prior to his demotion. He was a physical force out there and led the team in hits (36) while playing under 14 minutes a night. He also managed four goals in 10 games while being his creative self.
As the NHL is still trying to decide how and when they will come back for the 2021 season, the Canadiens gave Kotkaniemi permission to play for Assat Pori in the SM-Liiga. His underwhelming three points in seven games already has some fans looking into their crystal ball claiming the failure of a career for the 20 year old.
Comments like this truly are mind boggling, even troubling. For one, who are these people to pretend knowing the future? And two, HE’S 20 YEARS OLD! I won’t even touch on the ridiculous comparison to Lars Eller as it’s not worth the time and effort. It would be like comparing Ryan O’Reilly to Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Fans will be fans and in Montreal, we have the most self-proclaimed most knowledgeable fans in the NHL, heavy on the self-proclaimed.
As young players progress, one cannot look at a players’ first two years to make an educated assessment. Let alone making a prediction on a player’s career. What we must look at is his more recent work while taking into consideration the circumstances surround it. For example, as I’ve done a little while ago, by looking at his level of play against top competition in the most intense time of the year: the playoffs. And by looking at Assat as the equivalent to today’s Detroit Red Wings, seven games into a season. In Liiga, KK is playing over 20 minutes a game. He’s working on his faceoffs and other skills.
What does the future hold for Kotkaniemi? Your guess is as good as mine. But I am very optimistic that this guy will become a good physical two-way centre with size, who should put around 60-70 points at his top. With him being only 20, he has several years before reaching that stage though. In the meantime, fans needs to follow Carey Price‘s advice and… Chillax! Go Habs Go!