ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas on June 22-23. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is the No. 6-ranked International skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. The Avalanche has the 16th overall selection at the draft.
Playing against men older than him is nothing new for Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
The 17-year-old did just that last season with Porin Assat in Liiga, the highest level of professional hockey in Finland, and he didn't look out of place. In 57 pro games, the rookie center finished with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists)--the highest scoring total by an under-18 player in the league during the campaign.
His 29 points ranked third on Assat while his 19 assists were the second most on the club. Not bad for a teenager playing against older players, some of whom are a decade older than him.
Kotkaniemi has been steadily climbing the draft rankings throughout the season. The center was No. 9 on the NHL Central Scouting's mid-term rankings for International skaters but climbed to the No. 6 position on the final list. As far as centers, Kotkaniemi is the No. 1-ranked European.
Following the conclusion of the Liiga season in the spring, Kotkaniemi earned himself a spot on Finland's national team for the 2018 IIHF U18 World Championship and performed very well, helping the Finns defeat the United States to capture the gold medal. The forward centered Finland's first line and finished tied for sixth overall in tournament scoring with nine points (three goals, six assists) in seven games.
In the championship game, he had two assists against the Americans, including the helper on the game-winning, short-handed goal midway through the third period. He ended up being named one of Team Finland's top three players at the tournament.
It was Kotkaniemi's second-straight U18 World Championship, as the forward was also a part of the 2017 Finnish team that earned the silver medal after falling to the U.S. in the final. He had an impressive tournament that year as a 16-year-old, notching six points (one goal, five assists) in seven contests.
Video: Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Before skating in Liiga, Kotkaniemi often played against older players in his younger days. He was 14 years old when he started playing for Assat's under-16 squad and was 15 when he began competing with the under-18 and under-20 groups. He compiled 30 points (14 goals and 16 assists) in 40 games with the U20 team over the course of two seasons.
Kotkaniemi has proven he can produce, regardless of his age or the competition he is up against. Once the Finnish forward is drafted to the NHL, he will once again look to make the jump to another high level of hockey.
Given his track record, the youngster should be just fine.