The Battle of the Centres – Part One (Kotkaniemi and Kupari)

by Cam Robinson on May 31, 2018

 

In continuing my series of comparing draft-eligible players, this week we have a monster. The 2018 crop is littered with high-end defensemen and impactful wingers. However, it is lite on centres. I’ve targeted four pivots who could conceivably go in any order this June. Two from the Finnish Liiga and two from the CHL.

 

This will be a two-part segment. We will begin with Rasmus Kupari and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. That will be followed by a look at Barrett Hayton and Joe Veleno to be published 12 hours later. We will break it up into two parts but will compare all four players.

 

First, let’s take a look at the numbers:

 

 

 Statistic

Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Liiga)

 

Rasmus Kupari  (Liiga)

 

Barret Hayton (OHL)

Joe Velano (QMJHL)

 

Birthdate

 

07-06-00

 

04-15-00

 

06-09-00

 

01-13-00

 

Height

 

6’2

 

5’11

 

6’1

 

6’1

 

Weight

 

190lbs

 

163lbs

 

185lbs

 

194lbs

 

Games Played

 

57

 

39

 

63

 

64

 

Time on Ice

 

15:35

 

12:05

 

12:45 (est)

 

13:31 (est)

 

Goals

 

10

 

6

 

21

 

22

 

Assists

 

19

 

8

 

39

 

57

 

P1/GP

 

N/A

 

N/A

 

0.7

 

0.84

 

Total Points

 

29

 

14

 

60

 

79

 

Points-per-game

 

0.51

 

0.36

 

0.95

 

1.23

 

Shots/GP

 

2.77

 

1.79

 

2.51

 

3.14

 

Shooting %

 

6.3%

 

8.6%

 

13.3%

 

10.9%

 

PPG

 

2

 

2

 

8

 

5

 

PPP

 

4

 

4

 

21

 

36

 

 

 

 

Breaking it down…

 

It’s difficult enough to compare players from separate CHL leagues. It’s even more challenging to add those playing in a European top league. But that’s what we’re here to do.

 

The Rankings presented are from my lists that have run from last August. The final ranking will be released on Thursday, June 14th.

 

 

 

Jesperi Kotkaniemi

 

Rankings

 

August 2017

October 2017

January 2018

March 2018

May 2018

         14th

          14th

          19th

         14th

        12th

 

 


As the year wound down, Kotkaniemi began to rise in the rankings. Projected as a centre at the NHL level, he played almost exclusively on the wing during his tenure with Ässät. He was given strong deployment as a first-year pro – seeing 15:35 per night and an average of just under two minutes per game on the power play.

 

Some advanced stats for Kotkaniemi during league play: He ran a 49.7% Corsi rating while starting 49.2 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. He converted on 9.2 percent of his even-strength shots – a nice bump compared to his 6.3 percent mark in all situations.

 

His season with Ässät should be considered a great success. He produced over a half-point-per-game as a U18 player in a top men’s league. That puts him in some pretty lofty company

 

 

His time in the middle of the ice during the 2017-18 campaign took place on the international stage. The Pori-native started his year off with a bang as he recorded two goals and four points in four games at the Ivan Hlinka. He did not earn a spot on the U20 team for the World Junior Championships but was a force at the U18s.

 

Kotkaniemi led the charge offensively for the U18 gold medal-winning squad. He was the primary lynchpin at even-strength and on the man-advantage for the Suomi. He notched three goals and nine points in seven tournament games.

 

The 17-year-old doesn’t bode the cleanest stride or the quickest acceleration, but he does get around the ice well enough. He has something of a clunky stride but the mechanics can be worked on as he continues to build strength. This will be especially true as his lower half strengthens.

 

His intelligence is quite often on full display. He has strong anticipation skills which help him read defense schemes. Kotkaniemi uses that ability to exploit opponents with his vision and distribution skills. His sneaky release can fool netminders as he changes the release point on his wrist shot to upset the angle that a goaltender has on him. It is an effective tool. He can still use some more power behind his shot, but that’s not uncommon for a teenager.

 

Kotkaniemi’s hands are quick and skilled. Offering deft puck handling ability off the rush or down low on the man-advantage. He exhibited an ability to dangle efficiently against men this past season and that projects as being a translatable skill to the NHL.

 

A low-key comparable for Kotkaniemi is Anze Kopitar. It’s difficult to compare their draft-eligible campaigns as Kopitar spent the majority of his in the SuperElit league in Sweden. Kopitar owned better strength at the same age and perhaps some more creativity, but I think they both exhibit strong two-way play and a nice mixture of offensive tools. Of course, Kopitar would be the ideal result and the ceiling for the young Finn.

 

Report Card /10

 

Skating: 7.5

Passing: 8.5

Shot: 8

Hands: 8.5

IQ: 8.5

Defense: 8

NHL ETA: 1-2 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

      Rasmus Kupari

 

August 2017

October 2017

January 2018

March 2018

May 2018

        12th

         12th

          13th

         18th

        15th

 

 


It was a bit of an uphill battle for Kupari this season. Stepping into the top league as a 17-year-old is difficult. Stepping onto the league’s runaway top squad is another thing altogether. The slick pivot did well in his limited role but wasn’t afforded the same opportunities that Kotkaniemi was.

 

Kupari saw just over 10 minutes a night from the bottom six with just 51 seconds of powerplay time per contest. He was tasked with being defensively responsible and filled that role nicely for Kärpät. He also managed to play the middle of the ice for the majority of the campaign. That’s not overly common for a player in his situation.

 

Internationally, Kupari began his season on high note. He was the top player for the Finns at the Ivan Hlinka, recording two goals and seven points in five games. His two-way ability also garnered him a spot on the U20 World Junior squad. Similar to his situation on his club team, he was deployed in a bottom six role and was unable to hit the scoresheet in five contests. He flashed his slick playmaking ability and strong positional play despite the limited deployment. Finally, after Kärpät was eliminated from club play, Kupari was airlifted over the World U18 Championships. There, he suited up for the final four contests. He played well and looked especially dangerous on the man-advantage.

 

Kupari is an agile, cerebral and crafty centre. He blends quickness, creative lines, and sharp edges to employ an east-west style of game. Those characteristics lend themselves well to creating time and space for himself and teammates. His counting stats don’t jump off the page, but his skill set certainly does.

 

The term, ‘slick’ is often attached to Kupari and for good reason. He possesses soft and dangerous hands that allow him to maneuver in tight spaces and find seams. He’s often been compared to countryman, Sebastian Aho for their similar abilities.

 

Aho was selected 35th overall by Carolina in 2015. He split his draft-eligible campaign between the Finnish top league (Liiga) and the top junior circuit (Jr A SM-Liiga). In the Liiga, he produced 13 points in 30 games (0.43 points-per-game) – just a hair more efficient than Kupari this past season (0.36)

 

Aho followed that up with a tremendous draft-plus two season where he elevated his play and his production a great deal. He recorded a point-per-game with Kärpät and was instrumental to the Finns winning the World Junior Championships.

 

Next season will no doubt see Kupari’s role increase as Kärpät is losing several of its forwards. The team also recently announced they have signed Panthers’ 2017 second round pick, Aleksi Heponiemi. Another smaller, slick and puck-distributing pivot. It will be interesting to see how the two are slotted in.

 

Report Card /10

 

Skating: 8.5

Passing: 8.5

Shot: 7.5

Hands: 8.5

IQ: 8

Defense: 8.5

NHL ETA: 2-3 years

 

 

 

**

Earlier in the series…

Oliver Wahlstrom vs Brady Tkachuk

Quinn Hughes vs Adam Boqvist

Noah Dobson vs Evan Bouchard vs Ty Smith

**

That’s all for tonight. Check back in tomorrow morning for Part Two. Feel free to follow me on twitter at CrazyJoeDavola3