Conventional wisdom stated that Canadiens third-overall draft pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi would be given a good look during training camp and then be handed a ticket back to Finland for a final year in the Finnish Liiga. After all, the kid is barely 18.
And then Max Domi got himself suspended and the understudy got his chance to shine.
The understudy did just that, while earning first star in the Canadiens 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
I suggested after the Quebec City game Thursday night that there was a good chance that Kotkaniemi would be on the Canadiens roster at least through the first nine games of the season. Nothing he did against the Senators changed my mind. In fact I’m more convinced than ever.
Summing up Kotkaniemi’s night – in 17 shifts he recorded three missed shots two of them off goalposts. The second post came after he worked brilliantly from the right boards through traffic into the slot before getting his shot away. Kotkaniemi also blocked three shots and recorded three hits.
By my count he made only one bad pass all night.
Third overall draft picks generally go directly to the NHL. However, many thought the Canadiens went off the board to draft him at third. That, plus his lack of North American experience made him one of a training camp question marks. Many of those hockey-minds have been changed this week.
Drouin at centre ice was one of the many disasters that plagued the Canadiens last season. It’s one they weren’t about to repeat. Julien shrugged off the temptation to move him back into the middle after the Domi suspension. At left wing again Drouin had a strong night. This despite taking a puck in the face during the pre-game warmup.
Claude Julien-coached teams are noted for their defensive systems. There’s still a lot of that, especially with their forechecking. But he has also turned his defence loose offensively and nobody has benefited more than Mike Reilly.
Using his speed Reilly led the Canadiens with six shots on goal and was named the game’s second star behind Kotkaniemi.
AMONG OTHER THINGS
….The tendancy has been to completely write Mike McCarron off as a first-round bust. And I’ve part of that group. But in this game McCarron was much better; seemingly a little quicker in both his skating and his decision making in centering a fourth line.
….Nikita Scherbak started slowly again but improved as the game went along. He scored the Canadiens second goal with a quick one-timer from the corner that caught Craig Anderson off balance. Tomas Plekanec‘s screen didn’t hurt either.
….Carey Price is showing much more balance and quickness in the goalcrease that we saw for much of last season.
….We have no idea how consistent Tomas Tatar‘s season is going to be, but he is very effective on the power play and once again there was nothing wrong with his overall night. He was in front of the net to tip in the game winning goal.
….That was pretty close to the Canadiens season-opening defence on the ice against the Senators. It included a pairing of 21 year old Noah Juulsen and 20 year old Victor Mete. They’ve been together since the start of camp and were again pretty good, both finishing at plus-2.
….The rest of the defence was Reilly with Alzner and Petry alongside Jordie Benn.
….The Canadiens are going to have to make room for Tomas Plekanec. He won 72 percent of the faceoffs (13 of 18) and did his usual job defensively.
MOVING ON –
Three more games next week. Monday at Toronto; Wednesday at home to the Leafs and the final preseason game Saturday in Ottawa. Season opener the following Wednesday in Toronto.