Flyers

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

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).

Flyers' Carter Hart matches an NHL accolade not seen in 32 years

Flyers' Carter Hart matches an NHL accolade not seen in 32 years

CHICAGO — Carter Hart continues to turn back the clock.

Just last month, the Flyers' rookie netminder matched Jocelyn Thibault’s rookie record with eight straight victories before the age of 21, a record established back in 1995.

Thursday against the Blackhawks, Hart may have done himself one better. 

Hart’s 40-save performance in a 3-1 win at the United Center was another gem in his rookie season and marked the first time in 32 years that a rookie goaltender had three winning performances of making 40 saves or more while allowing one goal or less (see observations). Boston’s Bill Ranford was the last goalie to do that prior to Hart Thursday night.

Here's how Hart did it:

• March 21 at Chicago, W 3-1, 40 saves
• March 17 at Pittsburgh, W 2-1, 41 saves
• Feb. 4 vs. Vancouver, W 2-1, 41 saves

Hart is also 7-0 during games in which he’s been forced to make 37 or more saves, and certainly the volume of shots Hart has been subjected to is an element general manager Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers will want to address in the offseason.

However, the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t want to give Hart too much credit for the victory.

“I think he made some pretty good stops,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “I think we had a lot of opportunities in the second and third, but yeah, I give him credit — he played pretty well.” 

Since losing three straight games, and getting pulled in the first period in two of the losses, Hart has regained his composure and appears to be locked in with a .966 save percentage over his last three starts. Moreover, it shows the maturity and intelligence of a young player in a position that can be quite demanding. 

“I’m just trying to worry about things one day at a time and worry about the present moment,” Hart said. “The past is in the past and you don’t want to dwell on it. I think for me, I just have to live in the present moment whether I’m at the rink or at home. Just focus on what I’m doing and not get ahead of myself, or dwelling on the past.”

Right now, Hart is merely rewriting the past. 

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Flyers 3, Blackhawks 1: Carter Hart with another 40-save effort, James van Riemsdyk with another goal

Flyers 3, Blackhawks 1: Carter Hart with another 40-save effort, James van Riemsdyk with another goal

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Flyers continue to hold on to dear life in their playoff pursuit, beating the Blackhawks, 3-1, Thursday night.

Goaltender Carter Hart turned aside 40 shots as the Flyers completed a season sweep of the Blackhawks for the first time since the 2015-16 season. 

Here are my observations from the United Center:

• It was interesting to see interim head coach Scott Gordon start with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier together on the same line when it had been Nolan Patrick on that top line. I’m wondering if it was a strategic move with the Blackhawks loading up their top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Near the end of the second period, Gordon had split Giroux and Couturier up again. 

• The Flyers had two centers (Patrick, Scott Laughton) along with Travis Konecny on the ice for Erik Gustafsson’s 1-0 goal. The breakdown came as Laughton and Konecny were caught on the same side of the ice with Patrick battling Toews down low. By the time defenseman Travis Sanheim recognized the poor coverage, he was too late and Gustafsson blew a wrister past Hart.

• Hart has regained his mojo. Chalk up three straight starts for Hart, who has been consistently solid in making the saves he’s expected to make, and coming up with some timely saves that only a goaltender with his athleticism can make. It was the first time in 52 games that an opponent had held the Blackhawks to under two goals dating back to Nov. 16. 

• A solid all-around shift for the Flyers' fourth line that started with Justin Bailey breaking free on a breakaway, although his shot didn’t have much on it and was an easy save for Corey Crawford. Bailey picked up the assist on Corban Knight’s snap shot from the slot.

That fourth line is one area I would like to see more production from next season, especially when you look at the production teams like the Lightning and Islanders get out of their bottom lines.

• Ryan Hartman was a popular interview subject of the Chicago media as the Chicagoland native returned to the place where his career started.

Hartman had a rough third period as he was checked hard and was sent to the ice. On his next shift, he blocked a Brent Seabrook shot from about 10 feet away. He also committed a holding penalty, giving the 'Hawks a third-period power play.

While he doesn’t bring consistent effort to every shift, I thought Hartman had some bite to his game playing in front of family and friends.

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