Montreal Canadiens: Jesperi Kotkaniemi Given Huge Opportunity Tonight

MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 10: Jesperi Kotkaniemi Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 10: Jesperi Kotkaniemi Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi has been a little inconsistent to start his NHL career.

We have seen flashes of incredible offensive instincts, creativity and vision from the young player, but we have also seen long stretches of him being quiet offensively and being pushed around in puck battles.

He has definitely bulked up and looked stronger in the corners and along the boards this season, and his play is much better than it was at any time last season. Still, he has two goals and ten points in 22 games which is okay production, but not incredible.

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We can blame it on a lack of opportunity, because he barely received any power play time before the last handful of games, and he has looked terrific in that time. He also plays mostly on the third line and has been out there with Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia a lot. Both players are known for their smart, instincts and defensive play, but neither is described as an elite goal scorer.

So we all think Kotkaniemi could be producing far more if he was put on the ice with better scoring wingers. Well, it looks like he will get that chance tonight.

At practice this morning, Kotkaniemi was taking line rushes with Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli. Anderson is still a game-time decision, but if he plays, Kotkaniemi will have the Habs two best goal scorers on his line.

Anderson missed the previous three games with injury but is still season on the team in goals with nine. Toffoli leads the way in goals for the Habs with 14 in 22 games. Lehkonen and Armia have combined for six on the season, so this is a huge opportunity for Kotkaniemi.

The 20 year old centre was taken third overall in the 2018 NHL Draft. He was picked that high because he has the potential to be a big, top six centre who creates plenty of scoring chances for his wingers every night. He has a great shot himself, but it is his creativity, vision and puck distribution that is going to be his calling card in the NHL.

He finally has the chance to show off those skills with a pair of super skilled wingers that can put pucks in the net with great frequency.

Fans have been envisioning Kotkaniemi getting the puck to scoring wingers and creating goals since he was selected in June of 2018. He is being handed a terrific opportunity tonight and needs to take advantage.

I’m not saying we need to see three assists from the young centre tonight. However, he needs to show that he is the right centre for a pair of goal scorers by getting them the puck in scoring areas.

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If he can do that, he will quickly cement a role right behind Nick Suzuki as the team’s second line centre for the foreseeable future.