Montreal Canadiens: Jesperi Kotkaniemi Pick Was Bad, But Could Have Been So Much Worse

Jun 20, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens Jesperi Kotkaniemi Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 20, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens Jesperi Kotkaniemi Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports /

The Montreal Canadiens entered the 2018 NHL Draft with the third overall pick. A little lottery luck had moved them up from fourth overall to the top three and they appeared poised to land a player that would help the team for a long time.

It was widely assumed that the top two picks in the draft would be Rasmus Dahlin followed by Andrei Svechnikov. That is exactly how it played out with the Buffalo Sabres adding a franchise defenseman and the Carolina Hurricanes landing a power forward on their wing.

We all know now that the Canadiens chose Jeseri Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick. We also know it didn’t exactly work out as expected for the Finnish center in Montreal. He played three seasons with the Canadiens, his best being his first when he was 18 and then he signed a rare offer sheet and moved on to the Hurricanes to join Svechnikov.

The Canadiens received first and second round picks as compensation for losing Kotkaniemi at the age of 21. That’s not really what a team wants to get out of a third overall pick.

It may be hard to believe, but things actually could have been much worse. The Canadiens took Kotkaniemi, at least in part, because they believed he could fill a huge organizational hole at center. Had they not picked a center, it is possible the results could have been worse.

The player many people believed the Canadiens were going to select with their third overall pick was Filip Zadina. Don’t listen to everyone who claims they thought Brady Tkachuk was the right choice all along, he scored six goals in college hockey in his draft year and everyone thought he would struggle to score at the NHL level and wanted Zadina at the time.

Zadina, a Czechia native was coming off a great season with the Halifax Mooseheads. He scored 44 goals and 82 points in 57 QMJHL games in his draft year and appeared to be a scoring machine in the making. With the benefit of hindsight (like all those Tkachuk lovers who claim they knew it all along!) we now see Zadina isn’t cutting it at the NHL level.

He scored seven points in 30 games with the Detroit Red Wings last season. This is his fifth pro season and he still can’t break through and become an offensive contributor. He had 24 points in 74 games the previous season and 19 points in 49 games the season before that. As a skilled, offensive winger that just isn’t the production a team wants from a 6th overall pick.

He has been so disappointing in fact, that the Red Wings recently placed him on waivers and no one picked him up for free. He has two years left on his contract with a cap hit of $1.825 million and all other teams found it too pricey to take the player for nothing in return.

Say what you want about Kotkaniemi, and also what you want about the team’s decision to essentially turn his compensation picks into Christian Dvorak, but at least the Canadiens got something in return for their third overall pick. That would not have been the case had they taken Zadina, who was their second most likely choice at the time.

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