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With key gamers sidelined, Jesperi Kotkaniemi has to grab his alternative with the Canadiens

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Jesperi Kotkaniemi has stumbled out of the gate in his sophomore season, and if he cannot make the most of accidents to 2 of Montreal’s key forwards, an AHL demotion is perhaps precisely what he wants.Jesperi Kotkaniemi|Kevin Sousa/NHLI by way of Getty ImagesJesperi Kotkaniemi’s grin, which stretched from ear to ear, made the Canadiens teenager a favourite in Montreal final season. When, after a sluggish begin to the season, he scored his first NHL aim final November, it was laborious to not really feel thrilled for the child. He appeared to completely happy to have made his mark.
Within the 12 months since that fateful fall day, nevertheless, the smile has light.
Not solely did Kotkaniemi fail to issue into the Calder Trophy dialog final season, ending with 11 objectives, 34 factors and sitting a couple of video games as a wholesome scratch late within the season, the begin to his 2019-20 hasn’t confirmed to be significantly better. By way of 13 video games, Kotkaniemi has produced solely two objectives and three factors, and his ice time common has fallen from 13:44 to 12:43, low-lighted by a nine-minute outing in opposition to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. Lacking seven video games with a groin damage hasn’t helped issues, and whereas it could possibly be argued Kotkaniemi’s struggles have been due partially to deployment and partially to missed time, the truth is he merely hasn’t given coach Claude Julien a lot to consider.
Proper now, that has been the problem, too: discovering the proper place for Kotkaniemi within the Canadiens’ lineup. Projected to be a future top-six skater, Kotkaniemi has to this point been mired within the backside six and saddled with what could possibly be thought of fourth-line minutes. He’s the spherical peg attempting to suit into the sq. gap, and he’s caught behind top-line middle Phillip Danault and Nick Suzuki, who has earned his proper to time on the second line.
As rumors have swirled round a possible AHL demotion for Kotkaniemi, nevertheless, the younger Finnish ahead might have an opportunity to show himself with Paul Byron (knee) and Jonathan Drouin (wrist) out indefinitely.
In fact, making the most of the scenario is perhaps simpler mentioned than performed. Byron and Drouin are each wingers whereas Kotkaniemi has usually been a middle. However there may be some precedent for utilizing the 19-year-old on the wing. Final season, he emerged from a wholesome scratch to play wing alongside Byron and Nate Thompson. Kotkaniemi has performed on the wing in his native Finland, as effectively, skating there because of an inflow of veteran facilities in Assat. He succeeded, too, enjoying effectively sufficient to complete third in crew scoring as a Liiga rookie.
The problem in merely transferring Kotkaniemi to the wing, nevertheless, goes past his degree of comfortability. Tantalizing as a mixture of Kotkaniemi alongside Max Domi and Nick Suzuki is perhaps, it will imply a transfer down the lineup for Joel Armia, who’s experiencing one thing of a breakout season on the second line with six objectives and 10 factors in 18 video games. Taking Armia off the second line likewise isn’t all that interesting given it leaves a emptiness at third-line middle. At that time, discovering a spot for Kotkaniemi up the lineup appears to create as many issues as it could clear up, even whether it is one thing price exploring within the short-term.
So, perhaps the reply, as an alternative of dragging this on, is certainly to ship him to the AHL if he reveals no indicators of enchancment within the close to future. There’s no disgrace in sending him down and giving him time to work out the kinks in his sport. A demotion did wonders for defenseman Victor Mete, who got here again a brand new participant from a seven-game stint in with the Laval Rocket final December and has since turn into a constant top-four choice in Montreal. After slipping down the depth chart mid-season, Mete has discovered his match alongside Jeff Petry, and perhaps a visit to the AHL might present Kotkaniemi with the same jolt.
It’s straightforward for a younger participant to lose his confidence when issues go south, and it would simply take a couple of strong weeks within the NHL for Kotkaniemi to show issues round. However sending him down wouldn’t be an admission of defeat. Somewhat, it will current him with a possibility to enhance at a time when his scenario with the massive membership merely isn’t figuring out proper now.
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Tags: montreal canadiens, nhlConnect: Concerning the AuthorSteven EllisSteven Ellis is a Digital Content material Producer for The Hockey Information. He spends his free time listening to music you would not like and watches obnoxiously-long motor races.

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