2018 NHL draft profile: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, top center a trade-up option


In the weeks leading up to the 2018 NHL draft, we're providing prospect profiles and how those players would fit with the Flyers, who have two first-round picks — Nos. 14 and 19.

The NHL draft takes place June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The Flyers have nine picks with two in the first, fifth and seventh rounds and one in the second, fourth and sixth. They do not own a third-rounder as it went to the Detroit Red Wings for Petr Mrazek. The 14th pick conveyed from the Brayden Schenn trade. The final details were Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first-round pick (Morgan Frost) and the 14th pick.

Our prospect profiles will touch mostly on prospects projected to go in the 10-20 range but some may require the Flyers having to trade up to select. We’ll identify those prospects.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Position: Center
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 181
Shoots: Left
Team: Ässät

Scouting report
Arguably the top center for the 2018 draft, Kotkaniemi, who turns 18 in July, is rising among this class.

As a 17-year-old playing against men in the Finnish Elite League, Kotkaniemi put up 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 57 regular-season games during 2017-18. To cap off a strong draft year, he also won a gold medal in the 2018 U-18 World Junior Championships, delivering nine points (three goals, six assists) and a plus-9 rating over seven games for Finland.

Kotkaniemi fit right in with the big boys of the Finnish Elite League because he brings superb hockey smarts and elite vision to go along with a nice frame. The NHL Central Scouting's sixth-ranked European skater identifies time and space well and offers positional versatility.

Areas in which he wants to improve, though, are his initial breakout stride and overall skating, which appears a bit choppy at times.

Fit with Flyers
It's looking like the Flyers would have to move up in order to land Kotkaniemi, who may climb into the top six and doesn't seem likely to drop to No. 14.

At the NHL combine, Kotkaniemi told Oilers TV that he interviewed with 25 teams. He went to dinner with three — the Canadiens, Red Wings and Blackhawks, all of whom pick in the top eight.

General manager Ron Hextall likes to draft centers, especially ones with winger potential. Having two first-round picks makes a trade-up scenario possible, but ultimately Kotkaniemi might be out of the Flyers' grasp.

More on the 2018 NHL draft

Profile: Serron Noel

Profile: Joel Farabee

• Profile: Barrett Hayton

• Profile: Isac Lundestrom

• Profile: Joseph Veleno

• Profile: Vitali Kravtsov

Photo of Kotkaniemi from Scott Matla (HabsEOTP/@scottmatla).

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