There is no point in running, you just have to arrive on time, wrote Jean de la Fontaine in one of his most famous fables.
Just a few months ago, many were still calling the first two centers drafted in 2018, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Barrett Hayton, third and fifth overall picks, flops.
Hayton had three points in 27 games by the end of December. Now 22, he had just 34 points in 121 career games.
Kotkaniemi was barely better with five points in his first 26 games, although Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour gave him the job of second center with the departure of veteran Vincent Trocheck.
Brind’Amour even lost patience with him in early January and demoted him to a fourth line. For seven consecutive games, he played less than 13 minutes, including a measly eight minutes against New York on January 3.
Hayton, the fifth overall pick, had just 24 points, including 10 goals, in 60 games with the Coyotes and Kotkaniemi, the third overall pick, had 29 points, including 12 goals, in 66 games.
We obviously expected more from Kotkaniemi, in his fifth season in the NHL, after offering him an additional 38.5 million for eight years in March 2022.
The Finn had never been able in his next three seasons to reach his production of 34 points in his first year, at 18, an enigma.
By pure chance, the two took off almost simultaneously. That of Hayton, though lagging behind Kotkaniemi in development, is even more spectacular. The youngster has gotten 34 in his last 43, including twelve in his most recent seven encounters!
Hayton is now the center of the Coyotes’ first line, between Nick Schmaltz and Clayton Keller, and at the heart of his team’s recent success.
He evolves in a context where his club has nothing to lose, but all the same, the management will not spit on such a performance. Hayton found in André Tourigny a coach with whom he had had great success at the World Junior Championship.
Kotkaniemi has less room for error. He plays on the second line of the second team overall, with a 45-15-8 record. But he was used to playing under pressure in Montreal.
The former young center of the Canadiens has amassed 18 points in his last 21 games, including nine in his last eight meetings. He has played 17 minutes or more in five of his last eight games, and never less than 14:47.
Only Martin Necas has had more points than Kotkaniemi since January 27, with 22 in 21 games.
During the same streak, first center Sebastian Aho had 17 and Teuvo Teravainen had 13. Seth Jarvis had 10 points in those 21 games. Andrei Svechnikov fell in battle on March 11. He had 15 points in his previous 18 games.
Kotkaniemi just matched his career high of 34 points after 68 games. If he continues at the same pace, he could reach the 45-point mark. Hayton now has 37 points in 70 games.
Due to their difficult first half of the season, Kotkaniemi and Hayton do not have a spectacular overall record, but their performance in recent weeks announces a good rise.
The Canadian was criticized for throwing Kotkaniemi into the lion’s mouth too quickly, at only 18 years old. The Finn was also one of the youngest players of the 2018 vintage, being born in July.
The Coyotes, however, used caution with their first choice. He was sent back to the junior ranks the season after his selection, where he had 66 points in 38 games in Sault-Sainte-Marie, of the Ontario Junior League, as captain.
Hayton started the following season in the NHL, but after a short, inconclusive tryout, he was loaned to the Canadian squad for the World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.
Hayton was named captain and dominated there, with twelve points, including six goals, in seven games, and Canada won gold, having been left out of the podium the previous year.
We haven’t rolled out the red carpet for him. He played 26 games in the American League and only 14 in the NHL the following year, and started the 2021-2022 season with the school club, before being recalled at the end of October.
Kotkaniemi has played just 13 career AHL games. He did not have the opportunity to play in a World Junior Championship; we kept him in the National League, for better or for worse.
The Hurricanes, a model of development in the NHL, saw something in him, and extracted him from the Canadiens with a qualifying offer of six million for the 2021-2022 season, before offering him a reduced agreement, but long term, last year.
Like what all roads can lead to Rome.
The Penguins outrageously outplayed the Senators on Monday night in Pittsburgh, but 24-year-old Dylan Ferguson, in his second career start and the sixth goaltender employed by Ottawa this season, was smoking hot.
Pittsburgh lost their fourth straight game, on a late goal from Drake Batherson, and the Florida Panthers won their third straight game, sixth in their last seven games.
A quick glance at the NHL standings shows that the Penguins are now out of the playoffs, one point behind Florida, and two points behind the New York Islanders, with a game in hand on them nonetheless. Ottawa now sits five points behind the Penguins and six behind the Panthers.
After offering big contracts to Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, both in their mid-30s, to keep the core intact, the Penguins can’t afford to miss the playoffs. They have 12 games left to pull themselves together…