NEW YORK -- Jesperi Kotkaniemi said he doesn't think about the what ifs of how he entered the NHL, but what if he wasn't the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and instead was a third-round pick, or even second, or even late first?
Would expectations for him be different? Would he even be on the Carolina Hurricanes? Would he have already played 334 NHL games at the age of 23?
"I feel like it doesn't matter what number, that's just how you enter the League," Kotkaniemi told NHL.com. "I just wanted to play in the NHL. It doesn't matter if I was third overall. I just try to make the best of it every day. I was honored to be picked by Montreal. It was great to spend a couple years there. Now being here on one of the best teams in the League, life is good."
Life in the NHL this season is better for Kotkaniemi than it has been since he debuted for the Montreal Canadiens as an 18-year-old in the 2018-19 season, playing 79 games and putting up 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists), a strong start that fueled even higher expectations that five seasons later he seems to be living up to.
Kotkaniemi is tied with Sebastian Aho for the scoring lead on the Hurricanes with 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 15 games. Carolina hosts the Philadelphia Flyers at PNC Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; MAX, TNT, TVAS).
He broke out in the second half of last season with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in the final 35 games, including 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in the last 22 starting with an NHL career-high five-point night (one goal, four assists) against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 5.