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NHL Mock Draft 2018: Washington Capitals Select Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the No. 11 Pick

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We have a trade to announce...

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We interrupt your game day preparation for the biggest game in Washington Capitals history for the following frivolity...

As you know, every year SB Nation stages an NHL mock draft, wherein each blog that covers a team with a pick in the first round of the upcoming NHL Entry Draft makes a pick in that team’s slot.

We’ve actually done pretty well with our selections in the past. Without a pick last year (traded to St. Louis in the Kevin Shattenkirk deal), two years ago, we picked Alex DeBrincat with the 26th pick (who went to Chicago with the 39th pick in reality; the real Caps took Lucas Johansen).

In 2015, we chose Joel Eriksson Ek with our 22nd pick. In real life, he went to the Minnesota Wild at 20th-overall, and the Capitals actually selected Ilya Samsonov, who didn’t go in the first round of SB Nation’s mock draft.

In the draft before that, Japers’ Rink picked Julius Honka with the 13th overall pick. In the actual draft, Honka went to the Dallas Stars with their 14th-overall pick, and the Capitals ultimately selected Jakub Vrana, who was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in our mock draft with the 28th-overall pick.

The year before our Honka pick, we selected J.T. Compher with our 23rd pick, but, to be fair, Andre Burakovsky, who the Capitals actually selected with the pick, was selected by the San Jose Sharks with the 20th pick in our mock draft.

In 2012, we actually had two picks. With our first pick, at 11, we selected Zemgus Girgensons. With our additional 16th pick in that draft, we selected Pontus Åberg. In the real draft in 2012, the Capitals selected Tom Wilsonwith that 16th overall pick, and there is mysteriously no record whatsoever of who the Caps selected with that 11th-overall pick.

In the 2011 draft, we selected Scott Mayfield with the 26th pick. Mayfield actually went to the New York Islanders with their 34th-overall pick, and the Capitals actually traded their 26th-overall pick for Troy Brouwer.

And, finally, with our 26th-overall pick in 2010, we took Brock Nelson. In reality, the Islanders took Nelson with the 30th-overall pick, and the Capitals instead took Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was selected with the 24th-overall pick in our mock draft by the Atlanta Thrashers. (Thank the hockey gods that didn’t actually happen.)

We are now on the clock for this year’s edition of the mock draft, and with the 11th pick of the 2018 SB Nation NHL Mock Draft... wait, what?

Yep, we traded up.

New York Islanders blog Lighthouse Hockey approached us with a trade offer we couldn’t refuse - their 11th pick for Philipp Grubauer and our first-round pick (which has yet to be determined as between picks 30 and 31... hopefully that gets settled tonight). Is this trade far-fetched? Not really. In fact, the Isles’ interest is apparently there and Craig Custance has since suggested the possibility:

Washington is going to need to clear salary if it wants to keep John Carlson and trading the talented Grubauer is one way to make it happen. He’s coming off another strong season that was in line with his career save percentage of .922 and is ready for a crack at a starting job, something that Braden Holtby is preventing.

“He’s getting moved for sure,” said one executive.

A likely destination would be the Islanders, who need to address their goaltending as part of their pitch to keep John Tavares. The Islanders have back-to-back first-round picks and could use one of them in a deal to land Grubauer, similar to the deal that Lou Lamoriello struck with Vancouver to bring Cory Schneider to New Jersey.

The deal makes sense for the Caps, so we made the deal.

So... with the 11th pick of the 2018 SB Nation NHL Mock Draft, Japers’ Rink is proud to select, from Ässät of the Finnish elite league, Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

Having never seen Kotkaniemi play (and being preoccupied with... other things these days), let’s go straight to the experts’ opinions:

Corey Pronman, The Athletic: “High-end brain, high-end skills, I think you can argue both of those attributes look elite some days. He’s got size and projects down the middle based on his two-way play at the international level. He’s not a pretty skater but average overall from what I’ve seen. He’s one of the youngest players in the draft and yet has shown he can play at a very high level versus men in Finland’s top league and his peer group. He has the attributes you want in a top-tier prospect.”

Scott Wheeler, The Athletic: “Kotkaniemi is a big kid who somehow still manages to play an elusive game. It helps that he’s a July birthday and still has a lot of room to grow, but even without it he managed to make himself into a reliable, consistent contributor in a pro league as a 17-year-old. He tailed off in the playoffs, but his 29 points in 57 games was the seventh-most productive season for an under-18 player in the history of Liiga, besting names like Jesse Puljujarvi (fourth overall), Teuvo Teravainen (18th overall), Mikko Rantanen (10th overall) and Kasperi Kapanen (22nd overall). He makes quick, smart decisions with the puck and intelligently keeps his feet moving and finds open ice to get it back. He also does a nice job getting underneath defencemen to open up the cycle. His game will translate well to the NHL and he has already proven he can be trusted enough defensively to play centre at the pro level. I think in time he could become a star. He has begun to make a name for himself, but I’m still higher on him than most.”

Matias Strozyk, Elite Prospects: “A smart forward with a dangerous shot, Kotkaniemi possesses a high hockey IQ and determination with the skills to back it up. Positions himself well and often seems to be a step ahead of plays. Stickhandling and creativity allow him to split professional defences as a teenager. Decent size and frame, yet a very capable skater.”

Craig Button: “The 17-year-old Kotkaniemi, who is playing against men in Liiga for Assat, reminds me of Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar at the same age.”

Three dudes from NHL.com: “Kotkaniemi, who compares his style of play to Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, is a playmaker with strong hockey sense, a good compete level, a quick shot, and a nose for the net. He gained valuable experience in Liiga with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 57 games.” “Kotkaniemi played regular minutes in Liiga and won’t turn 18 until July 6. He’s used in the middle and on the wing, and kills penalties, which speaks to his high hockey IQ.” “Even though Kotkaniemi (6-1, 188) had a disappointing playoff series in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, with one assist in seven games, he did enough through the course of the season to show that he’s among the top prospects in this year’s draft class.”

The Draft Analyst: “Alert and versatile forward with good speed and a wide range of attributes who has performed well beyond expectations as a 17-year-old playing key minutes in Finland’s top league. Kotkaniemi comes across as a smart, clean player with or without the puck and can play either center or wing. He is used on the penalty kill and in late-game situations, showing defensive prowess regardless of the job he’s assigned. He has a nose for sniffing out opposing intentions, and his quick hands and keen vision can turn a run-of-the-mill enemy breakout into a quality chance for him or his mates. One skill that stands out is his playmaking ability — Kotkaniemi is quite creative with the puck and threads the needle with ease. Kotkaniemi is a central figure on the power play, where he likes to control the puck along the wall and look for backdoor cutters or point men open in the high slot. Although he comes across as a playmaker rather than a finisher, Kotkaniemi has an excellent shot/release combination and can corral a puck in traffic and still wire it on net. He makes up for an average first step with excellent awareness and anticipation, and he’s difficult to knock off the puck once he maintains control. Strong on his skates and heavily involved in puck battles, Kotkaniemi is highly reliable on odd-man rushes but also nimble enough to cut sharply across the grain and throw defenders into a state of confusion.”

Future Considerations: “Kotkaniemi is a strong two-way center that manages his own zone well and creates offensive chances…solid skater with good all-round mobility…not the fastest off the mark, but will get faster as he adds leg strength…quick, skilled hands with the puck…a strong playmaker not only because he puts the puck on his teammates blade, but more so because he possesses great puck poise and patience for the best option to present itself…he has a sneaky quick release and puts his shots on target…protects the puck in traffic and in tight spaces…has a tendency to get a little too individualistic at times and needs to consistently use his teammates to maximise his effectiveness…works hard each and every shift…gets into shooting and passing lanes to close off opportunities…willing to play the body to separate the puck or battle on the wall…defensively responsible…has very strong instincts and gets to the proper areas to both capitalize on a scoring chance as well as to break up a play defensively…solid in the face-off circle…still needs to fill out…has some solid upside as a big two-way center at the NHL level.”

And, before we get out of here, some eye candy:

There you go - the next (first) great Finnish Capital... and a heartfelt “thank you for your service” to Philipp Grubauer.

For more on Kotkaniemi, check out profiles over at our fellow SBN sites at Winging It In Motown, Mile High Hockey Broad Street Hockey, Jackets Cannon, Fear The Fin and Defending Big D. (Whew!)

Now, back to your regularly scheduled Stanley Cup Final Game 5 game day...