Canadiens Come Out Ahead by Replacing Kotkaniemi with Dvorak

On Saturday afternoon, Montréal Canadiens‘ general manager Marc Bergevin completed a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for forward Christian Dvorak. The addition of Dvorak addresses a key need that appeared suddenly when Bergevin declined to match the offer sheet the Carolina Hurricanes extended to Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The offer sheet came at a time when many Habs’ fans were beginning to see the upside in Kotkaniemi and just when he began to show some serious consistent upside. The Canadiens and their fans shouldn’t fret too much, though. Dvorak possesses many similar attributes to Kotkaniemi in addition to established experience as a second-line centre.

Christian Dvorak, Arizona Coyotes
Former Arizona Coyote Christian Dvorak. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bergevin should be very happy with what he gave up, as the Canadiens sent two picks – a first rounder in 2022 and a second rounder in 2024 – to the desert for Dvorak. He also received two picks from the Hurricanes as compensation for refusing to match Kotkaniemi’s offer sheet.

Dvorak is an Established Second-Line Centre Who Can Play Big Minutes

Selected in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft, Dvorak developed into a solid two-way player with both a scoring touch and a sharp defensive mind. In last season’s abbreviated schedule, he put up 17 goals and 14 assists for 31 points in 56 games. He outperforms Kotkaniemi in nearly every category, and at age 25 is no longer on his entry-level deal. This can translate to an increased trust level from coaches, and Dvorak’s consistent performances – a career 146 points in 302 games – mean that it will be easy to find a spot in the lineup for him.

Arizona Coyotes Christian Dvorak
Montréal Canadiens’ Christian Dvorak, formerly of the Arizona Coyotes. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

This spot most likely will be on a line with Brendan Gallagher or Jonathan Drouin, as Dvorak himself emphasized that he performs best when on the same line as a winger who carries the puck. Although, he plays well in other scenarios as well.

“I think I can thrive with one or without one. I think if I did have a puck-carrying winger I think I’m a guy that can find open lanes in the O-zone and try to put the puck in the net. I wouldn’t say I only thrive with that, but definitely wouldn’t mind having one.”

New Canadiens’ forward Christian Dvorak on where he fits best in an NHL lineup.(From “Christian Dvorak looks like a good fit with Canadiens” Stu Cowan. Montréal Gazette. 07/09/2021)

Dvorak also represents an immediate power play threat, something the Canadiens lacked all throughout last season. The absence of a consistent power play also hampered them in the postseason, as they scored at a clip of 18.9 percent. Respectable, but going up against the immortal and ruthless Tampa Bay Lightning, is wasn’t enough. The Canadiens’ man advantage has been absolutely anemic for the past few seasons, and a legitimate threat like Dvorak, paired with Mike Hoffman, could turn bloodthirsty.

Habs Have the Type of Team That Dvorak Can Thrive On

Because Dvorak can essentially slot anywhere in the lineup, he has the ability to develop chemistry with any player on his line. Head coach Dominique Ducharme can employ him with Gallagher and Toffoli for a lethal scoring threat, or with Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron for a Fort Knox-esque shutdown line. Even if it takes some shuffling, the Canadiens will have more than enough opportunities to figure out with whom he fits best.

Either way, Dvorak will provide a much-needed boost on both sides of the puck. While in Arizona and on a line with Taylor Hall and Conor Garland, Dvorak thrived as the middle man who found himself open in the high slot. Couple that with his great shot and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Dvorak and Draft Picks Are Appropriate Compensation for Kotkaniemi

The draft picks the Habs received from the Canes — essentially in exchange for Kotkaniemi — were a first rounder and a third rounder in 2022, and can be deemed a solid return. Drafted third overall in 2018, Kotkaniemi struggled to develop into the type of player the Habs thought they were getting with that pick. His play with Ässät Pori of the Finnish SM-Liiga didn’t seem to fit with his prospect preview, as he registered only 29 points in 57 games played. For context, the next third overall pick, Chicago Blackhawks forward Kirby Dach, posted 25 goals and 48 assists for 73 points in his final season with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens
Carolina Hurricanes forward Jesperi Kotksniemi, pictured here with the Montréal Canadiens. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

he major factor which led to his selection third overall was his play with the Finnish U20 squad at the World Championships, as “KK” posted 64 points in 62 games with the Finnish international team from the U16s to the U21s. This was more than enough to convince Canadiens’ management, but a player’s international play is not indicative of domestic consistency.

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Kotkaniemi also posted below-expected numbers in his first few seasons with the Habs, leading some to question whether he was an appropriate player to select at third overall. In fact, Jared Brook of Habs Eyes on the Prize ranked him eighth and Bob McKenzie’s final ranking placed him fifth. It’s fair to say the combination of expert opinion and Kotkaniemi’s initial production legitimizes these takes. One could accurately say that Kotkaniemi (at least initially) should have been selected as a mid-round pick instead of at third.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, now of the Carolina Hurricanes. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the Kotkaniemi-Dvorak transaction, the picks the Canadiens received are thus an appropriate return for Kotkaniemi. Two The Finnish youngster only just last season began to show glimpses of his full potential, scoring the overtime winner in Game 6 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite this, the combined return of Dvorak and the two picks seem fitting for a player who never quite lived up to the hype.

Although Habs fans may be upset to see Kotkaniemi leave, they should also be very excited about the return. A relatively high draft pick and a third-rounder essentially in exchange plus the services of Dvorak is a successful trade. The comination of Dvorak’s established success and his potential for more with Montréal should excite everyone. Bergevin made another great move.