“I was just really excited when I saw the offer sheet the first time,” Kotkaniemi said Sunday. “I thought how it would be over there. I had a good talk with [Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon] and Carolina, so I was just really excited. … I mean, like I said, Carolina is a great team, they’ll be a [Stanley Cup] contender next year. Everyone wants to be part of a team like that, so it was a good decision from our side.”
The 21-year-old forward scored 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 56 regular-season games and eight points (five goals, three assists) in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season, his third in the NHL since being selected by Montreal with the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.
“Jesperi Kotkaniemi is a player who has been on our radar since before his draft year,” Carolina general manager Don Waddell said. “We believe he will flourish in (coach) Rod Brind’Amour’s system and culture, and he will be an important piece of what we are building in Carolina for years to come.”
The Canadiens, who had seven days to match the offer sheet and keep the restricted free agent, received a first-round pick and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft as compensation from the Hurricanes. Montreal then traded one of its first-round picks in the 2022 draft and a second-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Christian Dvorak on Saturday.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said they were attempting to sign Kotkaniemi to a bridge contract rather than long term.
“In [Kotkaniemi’s] case, getting that offer sheet, you know, kind of put us in a position where we had to make a decision earlier that we would have liked to,” Bergevin said Monday. “That’s why the bridge contract was where we were going to go with this young player at the time.
“… At the end of the day, we really like the acquisition of Christian Dvorak, who we were able with one of those draft picks to go get this young center to help the organization for several years since he is signed, from our point of view, to a good salary cap that fits in well in the organization’s structure.”
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Kotkaniemi has scored 62 points (22 goals, 40 assists) in 171 regular-season NHL games and 12 points (nine goals, three assists) in 29 playoff games. He said his tenure with Montreal “could’ve been better.”
“At the end, when I think of the whole journey over there, I think it was a good run,” he said. “There are ups and downs every time. I think that’s normal. I made some really good friends over there on the team and off the ice too. I have really good things to say about them.”
The Hurricanes intend to start Kotkaniemi at left wing, Waddell said. He played center for the Canadiens.
“We have [Sebastian] Clearing, [Vincent] Trocheck and [Jordan] Staal down the middle, and he’ll get to play with some very good players,” Waddell said. “We think he has the skill to be able to do that.”
Montreal gave Aho a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet on July 1, 2019, and Carolina matched six days later.
“It certainly was not revenge,” Waddell said of giving Kotkaniemi the offer sheet. “We talked about this player, we know this player, we have an opportunity. We used the [collective bargaining agreement] as other teams have in the past to try to acquire a 21-year-old player. So, to us, it was all about the player. We looked around the League and thought this made the most sense from where we are as a team.”
Kotkaniemi’s contract includes a $20 signing bonus; Aho wears No. 20. Waddell explained that the Hurricanes were having fun with the signing bonus amount.
“Again, we are trying to build our fan base here in Raleigh,” Waddell said. “We’re not as fortunate as Montreal and some other cities that have sold-out crowds every night. Our social team does an outstanding job of engaging our fans. We were certainly aware of what we were putting out there, but we were doing it from, nothing against Montreal at all, it was all about what we’re trying to build here in Raleigh. As you’ve seen over the last few years since Tom’s bought the team, we’re pretty active socially and doing a lot of things. It’s just another thing we felt was good for our fans.”
Compensation to the team losing a player to an offer sheet escalates from no compensation for a contract worth $1.36 million or less per season, to four first-round draft picks for a contract worth more than $10.28 million per season.
Prior to this, the last offer sheet to lead to a player changing teams was one given to Anaheim Ducks forward Dustin Penner, who signed with the Edmonton Oilers on July 26, 2007. Anaheim received three picks in the 2008 NHL Draft as compensation.
The Hurricanes (36-12-8, 80 points) finished first in the Discover Central Division last season but were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the Stanley Cup Second Round.
Carolina lost forwards Warren Foegele (traded to Edmonton Oilers), Brock McGinn (signed with Pittsburgh Penguins), Cedric Paquette (signed with Canadiens) and Morgan Geekie (selected by Seattle Kraken in 2021 NHL Expansion Draft) this offseason. Forwards Derek Stepan and Josh Leivo each signed a one-year contract with the Hurricanes.
Andrei Svechnikov agreed to an eight-year, $62 million contract ($7.75 average annual value) with the Hurricanes on Aug. 26. The 21-year-old forward, who was a restricted free agent, scored 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists) in 55 games last season.
The Canadiens (24-21-11, 59 points) finished fourth in the seven-team Scotia North Division last season and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, when they lost to the Lightning in five games. It was Montreal’s first trip to the Final since it won the Cup in 1993.
Dvorak has four seasons remaining on the six-year contract he signed Aug. 9, 2018, with the Coyotes, who did not disclose financial terms. The 25-year-old scored 31 points (17 goals, 14 assists) in 56 games last season.
Arizona will receive the higher of Montreal’s two 2022 first-round picks unless either or both is in the top 10, in which case it will receive the lower of the selections. The Coyotes (24-26-6, 54 points) finished fifth in the eight-team Honda West Division last season, failing to qualify for the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons.
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers and independent correspondent Sean Farrell contributed to this report