The number 19 is an important one in Detroit Red Wings history, so I consider Kasper Kotkansalo to be pretty lucky slotting in at #19 in our top-25 prospects series, even if he is in the bottom half of the rankings.
Drafted 71st overall in 2017, Kotkansalo is part of a big pool of defensive prospects that were drafted for their combination of skill and size.
Drafted: 3rd round, 71st overall in 2017
Weight: 198 lbs
Birthday: November 16, 1998 (20-years-old)
Latest Team: Boston University (NCAA)
Kotkansalo’s Red Wings roots run deep. He was a fan of the team growing up in Espoo, Finland, as his father brought home signed memorabilia from his friend, the father of Valtteri Filppula.
So with dreams of one day donning the winged wheel himself, Kotkansalo made the difficult decision to come to America at 17-years-old to play for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL and begin his adjustment to North American ice. He scored one goal and 12 points that season.
The very next year, he was playing for David Quinn at Boston University, where he fit right in on a team stacked with NHL talent. As one of only three players who played in all 40 games that season, Kotkansalo scored two goals and six points.
In 2018-19, despite some coaching changes, Kotkansalo managed to improve his point total for the year from six to eleven in his 38 games.
Through all of this, Kotkansalo represented his country at the International level, playing in 35 games of U20 tournaments and racking up 13 points.
He’s expected to return to BU next year, where he’ll settle into a top-2 role playing in all situations.
Kotkansalo uses his big frame to play a physical game. He’s hard on the body and tough to play against in the dirty areas. His positioning needs work, especially in the offensive zone when it comes to finding a lane towards the net. He has a good shot, he just can’t find the right time to let it go.
That being said, he’s not meant to be an offense machine (as you can probably tell from his stats above). Kotkansalo is a reliable defenseman who can be counted on in all situations, though a little more on the penalty kill than the power play. He’s not a flashy player, but he’s solid in his position and can be counted on.
At BU, he’ll continue to be a top pairing defenseman, but in the NHL, he has a long way to go if he even wants to play bottom pair. He needs to fill out his frame a bit more and work on his skating and balance.
His confidence has grown and his work ethic is spectacular, which, as we know about the Red Wings, means he can go a long way with this organization.
As mentioned above, there are a few things that Kotkansalo has to work on if he wants to take that next step into professional hockey. He’s expected to have a big Summer at the gym this year and all of his deficiencies continue to improve little-by-little year-over-year.
That being said, with the level of speed and skill that continues to pour into the NHL every year, spots for big, tough, defensive defensemen are being pushed down to bottom pairings. I don’t see Kotkansalo playing as a top-2 defenseman in Detroit. He could maybe sneak into the top-4, but with all of the other defensive prospects around him, he’s going to have to take a few very big steps over the next few years.
Next year, he’ll return to Boston for another season with BU. After that, at 22-years-old, he should be ready to turn pro. He’ll likely play a season in Grand Rapids before he’s ready for the NHL, if at all.
To me, he’s a bit of a long shot, but I never count the long shot out. They always seem to want it more.