Canadiens’ finish hopeful showing promise back home

Scott_Perunovich_St._Louis_Blues_2nd_round_pick_2018_NHL_Draft._Talking_with_Andy_Strickland-min

The 2018 third pick in the NHL Draft Jesperi Kotkaniemi made just 115 appearances for Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge between 2018-2020, picking up just 17 goals in that period. His lack of output in the league resulted in a loan deal with Finnish club Laval Rocket.

He plays with aggression much like we see from many of the Finnish players. He’s a pacey forechecker and has looked better and better each time he plays. The Canadiens finished last season disappointingly, ending in the bottom half of the Atlantic Division. They had an entertaining run in the Playoffs, but are still lacking something going into 2021. With the NHL targeting the start of 2021 for the return to NHL regular season action, there’s a window of opportunity for the young Finn to step up to the big league. The fact the Canadiens have started the season yet again as outsiders among popular Canadian sportsbooks shows something needs to be done.

But there’s a clear difference from the standard of hockey being played back home for Assat in Pori, his hometown, to that of the Centre Bell. Right now, Kotkaniemi is getting a lot of time and led the team to victory in a 3-2 shootout win over Vaasan Sport this week. He spent little over a period on the ice, but was impactful and showed why he plays for an NHL team.

How’s he performing back home?

Kotkaniemi gets about the ice, playing as a centre who can do damage from range, he covers a great amount of distance during games and is a constant nuisance. He managed to cover over 5 kilometres in his first game, which is a feat he has repeated more recently. While the Canadiens are set for centres, Kotkaniemi will hope to see minutes on the ice during the 2020/21 campaign if he’s going to play in the top six.

One of the best developments for Kotkaniemi since signing, has been his physical transformation. Much like we see with any new young players coming to the league, it takes time to adapt to the physical demands of playing at the top level. For Assat, he looks like he’s using his strength and building on what we saw at the end of the Canadiens’ NHL post-season campaign.

“Braden Holtby” by All-Pro Reels

The youngster has shown that he can play in this role, but was always more prolific in his early career. He came close to scoring over the weekend, but it wasn’t to be. He seems to be adapting to the European game and is beginning to take more shots, attempting nine in his first two games for Assat.

He’s over 6 foot tall and as he continues to fill out, he’ll begin to excel if he can continue developing as we all hope he can. He’s struggled in key areas for a player in his position in the past, but that’s to be expected for a player so young. One of the areas is Faceooffs, which he managed to pick up 63% of draws in game one. However, in this weeks’ game he only managed 25%.

Kotkaniemi is someone that has that desire to play and is showing that grit determination by putting in performances while he’s back home. The Canadien coaching staff will be closely monitoring his performances and will be keen to bring him back, if this form continues to progress. His first two seasons are in the past now, it’s time to build towards next season and looking to get more time on the ice.

The announcement from the NHL regarding a return to regular season hockey is still up in the air, the more game time the youngster gets in now the better he’ll be coming into the full season when it begins. Training camp starts soon and Kotkaniemi will be playing with one eye on that. Kotkaniemi is a great size, with great vision and a vicious shot. His physical developments are promising, if he can get his handling to a point where he can dictate play from the centre, we are likely to see a lot more of the Finn.

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