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  • The Wild Should Try Buying Low On Jesperi Kotkaniemi

    Image courtesy of Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
    Kalisha Turnipseed

    It's time to truly appreciate Minnesota Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek and his growth. Fans didn’t know who he was when the Wild drafted him 20th overall in 2015, but he has emerged as one of the best two-way centers in the NHL. 

    So why not talk about Jesperi Kotkaniemi? Because Kotkaniemi’s has similarities to Eriksson Ek’s game. Kotkaniemi is a big-bodied center at 6-foot-2, 201 lbs. He isn't a flashy player who makes highlight reel plays all over the ice, but he’s capable of making them around the net. He isn't afraid to take a beating around the net and hammers rebounds, not to mention possessing a goal scorer's shot. He plays a lot like old friend Nino Niederreiter, back when the Wild traded Cal Clutterbuck for him.

    Kotkaniemi hasn't lived up to expectations as a former top pick. The Montreal Canadiens drafted him third overall in 2018, and Montreal rushed him to the NHL to help them turn things around. But Kotkaniemi didn't find a consistent role in Montreal. When he hit restricted free agency, the Carolina Hurricanes created a one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet, and the Canadiens didn’t match it. The Hurricanes quickly signed Kotkaniemi to an 8-year, $38.56 million ($4.82 million AAV) contract with the Hurricanes on March 21st, 2022. 

    But it looks like Kotkaniemi could be falling out of favor in Carolina. He’s underachieving (10 goals, 20 points in 55 games), and Carolina has moved him down the lineup. So why should the Wild consider calling? Because they have an established top line for the long term. Eriksson Ek has found his new home with Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy on the first line. However, sometimes John Hynes puts Eriksson Ek in a checking role, breaking up his best line. 

    The Wild need a center who can back up Eriksson Ek as a shutdown center when injuries occur, creating depth. What makes Kotkaniemi intriguing? Kotkaniemi showed he could match Eriksson Ek's production in his draft plus-3, plus-4, and plus-5 years. 

    Let's compare scoring rates:

    Draft plus-3 

    Kotkaniemi: 0.36 points 

    Eriksson Ek: 0.21 points 

    Draft plus-4 

    Kotkaniemi: 0.44 points 

    Eriksson Ek: 0.24 points 

    Draft plus-5 

    Kotkaniemi: 0.52 points 

    Eriksson Ek: 0.47 points

    Up until this year, Kotkaniemi has shown to be more productive than Eriksson Ek over their early careers, which speaks volumes. If Minnesota were able to buy low with Kotkaniemi, he'd have Eriksson Ek to look up to. There's no better example to show Kotkaniemi that gritty centers with talent can also make an impact in the NHL. 

    Carolina is on track to make the playoffs and have home-ice advantage. What if the Wild can get Frederick Gaudreau to waive his Modified No-Trade Clause (M-NTC) or Marcus Johansson to waive his No Trade Clause (NTC) to jump to a contender? That's not going to get a deal done by itself, though, which means the Wild will be required to give up some kind of sweetener that doesn’t blow up their prospect pool. What if Vladislav Firstov can be included as a youthful piece to entice Carolina to part with their struggling center? 

    Kotkaniemi won't have a clause in his contract until 2025-26, which is only a M-NTC. Carolina is free to trade him until then. While Kotaniemi is under contract for another six seasons, having young players (Kotkaniemi doesn't turn 24 until July) on long-term deals is better than doing the same with older players. Kotkaniemi has a chance to further his growth. Look at Eriksson Ek before you say he can't! 

    Kotkaniemi can make Minnesota’s second power play more effective by playing Eriksson Ek’s role in front of the net cleaning up the garbage. Goalies will be in for a tough time when they have to face Kotkaniemi in front of the net on the power play. 

    Trading for Kotkaniemi would help provide an opportunity for Adam Beckman, who can finally get the chance to play a consistent role. Marat Khusnutdinov is also on his way over to North America. What if the Wild try Kotkaniemi with Beckman and Khusnutdinov? Kotkaniemi and Khusnutdinov could make a great forechecking duo with scoring upside. Khusnutdinov can make plays for Kotkaniemi. Beckman could join this duo because he has rounded his game out more, allowing him to stay in the NHL. 

    If Minnesota can offload something like the Johansson contract, it also opens up a top-six spot for Danila Yurov in 2024-25. He didn't see himself in Minnesota’s immediate plans after they extended multiple veterans, so he’ll likely stay in Russia next year. But Yurov will get the opportunity to play with Marco Rossi and Mats Zuccarello when he arrives, solidifying the top-six with scoring. Trading for Kotkaniemi allows the Wild to get younger. 

    What's the greatest benefit to signing Kotkinemi for the next six years? Just like starting goalies have backups, top centers need depth centers behind them. Kotkaniemi has Eriksson Ek to learn from. You can’t give up on a 23-year-old center, especially one who has scored better than Eriksson Ek in limited ice time. Also, the Wild won't have to worry about extending Kotkaniemi because he's already on a long-term deal.

    Kotkaniemi's contract is cheap enough so it won’t interfere with Minnesota’s other pending extensions, like Brock Faber, Kaprizov (hopefully), Rossi, etc. Kotkaniemi’s contract has the chance to become one of the best bargain contracts in the NHL if he can get back on track. It'd also be useful to have a center capable of playing Eriksson Ek's type of role the next time an injury strikes. 

    By trading for Kotkaniemi, the Wild get more time to develop Charlie Stramel and Rasmus Kumpulainen. Can you imagine Eriksson Ek, Kotkaniemi, Stramel, and Kumpulainen as the centers down the middle five years into the future? Big, strong centers, all following Eriksson Ek's lead! It’s a great way to show Eriksson Ek they appreciate him. 

    It's time for the Wild to continue building for the future and if the Wild can take advantage of Kotkaniemi's down years, they can kickstart that. Moving out veterans with some futures as a sweetener could the Wild improve their depth without giving up a first-round pick. It's time to start appreciating Eriksson Ek and helping him out. Trying to buy low on Kotkaniemi can give the Wild the younger version of Eriksson Ek they'll need to keep the actual Eriksson Ek where he belongs: on the top line. 

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    I think it would be crazy for wild to take a chance on another long contract.  If the wild wanted a center then why didn’t they go for O Reilly or duchene  or any of the multiple other centers in free agency.  They would have given up nothing , had a shorter contract and spent less on salary, I also highly doubt you will ever see ek , stramel and  kump as 3 starting centers for the wild . The wild need to draft some high end talent versus taking on a long contract of an underachieving player. 

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    I’m in on this one as stated. MJ, FG and a prospect? I’m into taking risks if it helps bring in players with a better fit for our SC window. Unfortunately I’m pretty sure the Canes would be asking for more.

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    Great idea in isolation, but where is Rossi on your list of centers? 

    Not to mention we'd probably have to include a player like Beckman (maybe Walker or Lambos as well) to get Carolina to take both FG and MJ off our hands.  They're effectively dead weight for us, and you expect a contender like the Canes to want them as-is?

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    I absolutely love this idea and have long thought Kotkaniemi is the Finnish version of Ek. Anyone who doesn't like this idea probably wanted Boeser over Ek two years ago and just doesn't value defense. 

    Edited by Patrick
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    2 hours ago, Patrick said:

    Kotkaniemi is the Finnish version of Ek

    Carolina barely has let him play on the PK, less than 20 minutes total in nearly 3 seasons, so I really doubt that he is as talented defensively as JEE.

    Eriksson-Ek didn't play a ton of PK at 20 years old, but has played substantial minutes on the penalty killing units since his age 21 season.

    On the flip side, JEE barely saw any PP minutes prior to his age 24 season, but Kotakniemi has been seeing minutes there much of his career, now in his age 23 season. They might have some similarities, but seems like one had more defensive instincts and the other was being counted on for more offense.

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    On 2/24/2024 at 5:53 PM, Lovehockey said:

    I am not sure how this help Carolina, why they would do this.

    Also don’t see BG doing this. If he does anything it will be another 30+ player 

    And this is exactly the point. For this trade to happen, it has to benefit Carolina too. How would Johansson + Gaudreau do that? They have Fast, Martinook, Teravainen, and Drury has just developed. These 2 players add nothing to their roster. Carolina is in the hunt as a contender. Their main need is goaltending.

    So, I visited my son this weekend and asked him about Kotkaniemi. He keeps up with the Canes more than I do. Yes, Kotkaniemi has been demoted to the 4th line, but he is not listed as trade bait at this time. Carolina also has a decently deep prospect pool and is not really in need of a Firstov. For us, the deal looks great, for them, it would look like WTF. 

    If I were adding for Carolina, I would need a scorer and a goaltender. Freddie Anderson has been out with blood clots and is now traveling with the team. He's older and there's no guarantee he will be back. Raanta and Kochetkov have not held down the fort all that well. In fact, Kochetkov let in a tough game winner on Saturday because he did not read the angles correctly. 

    They've got Aho, Svechnikov, Bunting, Necas, and Jarvis. Put one more scorer on that roster, probably a righty, and they're set. Burns runs the PP and they've also got Slavin, DeAngelo, and Skjei on the backend to add offense. 

    Kotkaniemi hasn't been producing like a 2nd line C, and they've got one of the best 3rd line Cs in the game in Jordan Staal. So, the demotion is 2nd to 4th. He's overpaid as a 4th line C, but he'll be quite effective in that slot and adds to their strength down the middle. 

    While I love Kalisha's attempt to pry him loose, she's simply not looking at the Carolina side of the deal. In the rumor mill, it has Carolina after Guentzel and possibly Fleury. Kotkaniemi could possible be compensation in a Fleury deal.

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    1 hour ago, mnfaninnc said:

    Kotkaniemi could possible be compensation in a Fleury deal.

    Looking at the standings today LA, Nashville, Calgary and St Louis are going to be tough to overtake/hold off. All are playing decent hockey right now. The TDL is coming soon so a decision will need to be made and Flower is the one who will make it. I just don't see it happening unless the Wild stumble badly in the next ten days.

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    3 minutes ago, Up North Guy said:

    I just don't see it happening unless the Wild stumble badly in the next ten days.

    You're right, but the only way a deal makes sense is for us to trade Fleury there and not a scorer. Unless, anyone would be open to trading Goose2 and getting Kotchetkov back with Kotkaniemi? 

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