According to Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien, rookie centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi is likely to start the season with the Montreal Canadiens. Kotkaniemi, who turned 18 in July, was the Habs first round pick, third overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
— Stu Cowan (@StuCowan1) September 27, 2018
Jesperi Kotkaniemi Turning Heads
Last season, with Assat Pori of the Finnish Liiga, Kotkaniemi had 10 goals and 19 assists for 29 points. He also added 20 minutes in penalties. Kotkaniemi signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Habs on July 1st. The Habs have played Kotkaniemi with a number of different linemates over the pre-season including having him play on the top line. Max Domi‘s suspension provided Kotkaniemi with the opportunity to play with Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia, and Artturi Lehkonen.
The Habs have been looking for a solid centre and Kotkaniemi appears to be being groomed for a future top line centre. The debate over how to best handle the development of the youngster is the biggest issue facing the team at this time.
What This Means for the Future
Kotkaniemi can play up to nine games with the Canadiens before the team is faced with another big decision about his future. on what they want to do with him for the future. The biggest question is if Kotkaniemi can continue to contribute at the NHL level in the regular season and if the team should burn the first year of his entry-level deal by keeping him with the big club. Over the course of the pre-season, Kotkaniemi has stood out to the Canadiens. Once the regular season begins it will be a test to see how Kotkaniemi is able to deal with the NHL play. Things will become faster and more intense as the puck is dropped for real.
If the Habs choose to send Kotkaniemi down, they will face another choice. They could send him to their AHL club, the Laval Rocket, or back to Finland. It is unclear if there is a “European Assignment Clause” in Kotkaniemi’s deal and if so, what the terms of such a clause are.
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