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Draft Profile: Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Evan Bouchard

The Finnish center is rocketing up draft boards and may go in the top five, and the Canadian defenseman won’t be far behind.

Barrie Colts v London Knights Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

In our 2018 NHL Draft Preview, we look closely at some of the prospects that could be available to the Hurricanes, who hold the second overall pick in the draft beginning June 22 in Dallas.

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Jesperi Kotkaniemi

  • DOB: 7/6/2000
  • Team: Assat (Finland)
  • Center | Shoots: L | 6’2”, 190 pounds
  • 2017-18 Stats: 57 GP - 10G, 19A, 29 points, 20 PIM

If you are looking for this year’s prospect that has flown up draft boards, look no further than Kotkaniemi. Following in the footsteps of players like Leon Draisaitl and Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Finnish center has made up a ton of ground on the top five over the course of this season.

One of the younger players in the draft, Kotkaniemi won’t turn 18 until after he hears his name called on Friday night, making his season with Assat in Liiga even more impressive. The 17-year-old was among Assat’s best forwards, finishing third on the team with 29 points. Internationally, he was terrific, playing well at both the U18’s and the U18 Five Nations tournament.

Like many high-level Finnish prospects we have seen recently, Kotkaniemi’s foundation is as a playmaker first. He effortlessly controls the puck both in the offensive zone and on the rush, and rarely is forced into poor decisions, choosing to make the smart play to a teammate rather than trying to do too much and risking a turnover. As good as he is as a distributor, Kotkaniemi is no slouch when it comes to putting the puck in the net. His offensive talents make him a high-floor player, who will take a huge step forward next season in his post-draft year.

One of the factors working in Kotkaniemi’s favor is that there are fewer high-level centers in this draft than in recent memory. As we know, teams love to build down the middle, making the draft’s top pivot in even more demand. His name could be called as early as third on Friday night.

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Evan Bouchard

  • DOB: 10/20/1999
  • Team: London (OHL)
  • Defense | Shoots: R | 6’2”, 195 pounds
  • 2017-18 Stats: 67 GP - 25G, 62A, 87 points, 54 PIM

When you first look at Bouchard’s stat line, the type of player you typically think of first isn’t a 6’2” defenseman. The London Knights blueliner was in rarified air this season, leading all OHL defensemen in both points (87) and assists (62) and finishing second to only 2017 second round pick Nic Hague in goals with 25.

He’s a modern day power play prototype from the back end, who has the ability to set up his linemates for scoring opportunities or wire the puck on net himself. Bouchard does a great job of using his awareness with the man advantage in multiple ways, by drawing defenders and dishing to others or creating shooting lanes for his powerful shot to get on net. He does need to improve his top end speed a bit, but Bouchard is strong on his skates, and has enough elusiveness to keep defenders honest. The fact that he is a right handed shot only adds to the intrigue.

Bouchard will likely be a top-10 selection as the combination of size, skill and production will be too hard for a team pass on. Expect Bouchard to be off the board between picks five and 10.