October 14, 2018

An unexpected youth movement: how the Canadiens is embracing its talent

Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Photo: David Kirouac/Icon Sportswir​e

Since the very first puck dropped on opening night, there’s been something different about the Montreal Canadiens.

With veteran defender – and captain! – Shea Weber and key checking line forward Jacob de la Rose both out with injuries to start the campaign, it had been a foregone conclusion coach Claude Julien would lean on his veteran players early. Make no mistake; even with Weber and de la Rose in the lineup, few out there had a favorable view of the Canadiens coming into the season. Carey Price hadn’t been Carey Price for years, the defense lacked for speed and the offense seemed to lack scoring power.

So when, just hours ahead of the Canadiens first game versus Toronto Maple Leafs, it was announced Tomas Plekanec, Nikita Scherbak and Karl Alzner would all sit in the press box as healthy scratches, it came as quite a surprise.

Instead of Alzner and Weber patrolling the blueline, Noah Juulsen (born 1997) and Victor Mete (1998) drew into the lineup. With no Jacob de la Rose, Tomas Plekanec or Nikita Scherbak at forward, a spot opened up for Finnish phenom Jesperi Kotkaniemi to make his NHL debut.

Coach Juliens move paid reasonable, if not outstanding, dividends.

Juulsen and Mete skated 20 minutes a piece and 2018 3rd overall pick Kotkaniemi picked up his first NHL point with an assist on Andrew Shaw’s game-tying 2-2 goal. Montreal ended up losing the game in overtime.
“I try to play brave out there and dish pucks to my teammates and I’ll continue to get better at that”, said the young Finn after making his debut.

Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Photo: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Montreal faced Toronto on the road and just days after his first ever NHL game it was time for Kotkaniemi to experience Bell Centre for the first time, arguably an even bigger experience. One that his roommate, 20-year old Victor Mete, looks back at fondly:
“I think it will be special,” Mete told Montreal Gazette. “It was an unreal experience for me with the crowd getting into the kickoff to the season. I haven’t really talked to [Kotkaniemi]. He hasn’t asked me. Maybe he will, but I think he’ll find out by himself.”
“The three preseason games I played here were special and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in the first regular-season game”, Kotkaniemi told the same publication, just hours before the game.

It wasn’t just any team out there for Kotkaniemis home debut. Lining up across from the young Finn were veteran superstars Anze KopitarIlya Kovalchuk and Drew Doughty on the Los Angeles Kings.

Still, he hardly seemed fazed.
“Do I look nervous?”, he was quoted as saying.

Judging by his demeanor on the ice the answer to that question would be a resounding “No”. After winning just 14% of his faceoffs in the opener against Toronto, he bounced back against the Kings and posted an impressive 55% in the dot.

Although Kotkaniemi has yet to add to his point totals after his opening night assist, he’s been a responsible presence defensively for the Canadiens and has earned the 13:46 in average ice time he’s been entrusted by Claude Julien.

Mete and Juulsen has been similarly impressive, both skating 18 to 20 minutes a game. While none have picked up a point this season, it should just be a matter of time judging by their calm, veteran-like performance on the blueline.

A team that was in “win now”-mode just a few years ago with the Weber acquisition, Montreal was not expected to make much noise this season. The roster that was put on paper didn’t exactly scream Stanley Cup contender. Even so, general manager Marc Bergevin has continually maintained the club is not in a state of rebuilding as much as it is in a state of re-tooling.

Well, call it whatever you want.

In a theoretical rebuild, Mete, Juulsen and Kotkaniemi would all serve as excellent tools to build around. Since a rebuild is not what the Montreal Canadiens is doing (wink wink), let’s just refer to the calm and collected trio for what they are: something different.

For a club that has long leaned on veterans and been considered good but not great for years, perhaps different is the perfect way to move forward.


Hampus Duvefelt hampus_duvefelt@live.se
October 21, 2018

Waiting in the wings – Swedish domination in the AHL

The American Hockey League uses a specific symbol in their scoring charts to indicate whenever a player is considered a rookie; an asterisk (*). In order to hav...
October 08, 2018

The Great Young Hope – Bouchard out to prove himself in the NHL

He wasn’t supposed to be this good. Not yet, at least. When Evan Bouchard was selected 10th overall in the 2018 NHL draft this summer, the perception was that t...
September 11, 2018

A yellow and blue Maple Leaf – how Toronto is becoming the new Detroit

It used to be the Detroit Red Wings that could ice a lineup made up entirely of Swedish players to start a game. Then, once Nicklas Lidström, Jonathan Ericsson,...
August 30, 2018

A journey into non-traditional hockey markets: the importance of role models

“Hockey”. For those of us that choose to be around this hauntingly beautiful sport, the mere mention of the word can send the mind racing. In an instant, you re...
August 26, 2018

Sharing a wealth of experience – Patrik Elias wants to give back to Czech hockey

ÖRNSKÖLDSVIK, SWEDEN (ELITEPROSPECTS.COM) The U20 Four Nations’ Tournament in Örnsköldsvik features some prominent talent. Finland has Montréal Canadiens&...
July 22, 2018

In the footsteps of the Sedins РDahl̩n and Pettersson dream big

Elias Pettersson was awarded the 2018 Elite Prospects Award as the most prominent junior player in the SHL earlier this week. As we handed out the award to the...
July 19, 2018

And the winner is… Elias Pettersson

Since 2013, eliteprospects.com has handed out Elite Prospects Award to the best junior player in the Swedish league. This year, the jury had an easy task at han...
June 21, 2018

Grigori Denisenko – The Little Ball of Russian Hate

Picking the best player available is a common strategy during the draft. But what makes a player “the best available”? Is it talent? Attitude? A combination of...
June 19, 2018

EP Premium – a new beginning

When Johan Nilsson registered www.eliteprospects.com in his dorm room in Kalmar, Sweden back in 1999, he probably didn’t envision himself serving millions of ho...
June 19, 2018

Vitali Kravtsov – in the footsteps of Yevgeni Kuznetsov

Vitali Kravtsov was born in Vladivostok, in the far east of Russia. Today, the city has it’s own KHL team, but when he grew up, the hockey boom was yet to...
June 14, 2018

Nils Lundkvist – a Swedish surprise a head of the draft

When the 2017/18 season started, he was pretty much an unknown commodity in Swedish hockey. As we approach the 2018 NHL Entry draft in Dallas, Nils Lundkvist co...
May 23, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: Detroit’s run of success finally caught up to them

After an unprecedented two-decade-long period of success that saw four Stanley Cup championships and the Hall of Fame careers of players like Steve Yzerman, Nic...
May 10, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: After disappointing season – can the Canadiens reload quickly?

If you were to sum up the 2017-18 season for the Montreal Canadiens you could probably do it in a thousand words. Or, you could do it with just one: disappointm...
May 07, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: Svechnikov or Zadina – tough choice awaits the Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes faithful may soon see the fortunes of their beleaguered franchise shift after the Canes exited the April 28th NHL draft lottery with the...
May 04, 2018

From July to May – Lias Andersson’s long journey continues

How much hockey can you play without getting burned out? If you are to believe Lias Andersson, there’s no upper limit.  And he should know. The 19 year-ol...
April 30, 2018

Swedish Olympian to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs

At 26 years of age, he’s not by any means a prospect anymore. But Pär Lindholm is a late-bloomer who has had two seasons of great progress with SkellefteÃ¥...
April 29, 2018

Clock is ticking for Valeri Nichushkin – can he make a triumphant return to the NHL?

When Valeri Nichushkin was drafted by the Dallas Stars with the 10th overall pick in 2013, it was a bit of a surprise. After all, the Russian was picked ahead o...
April 26, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: Senators strong at center, in need of game-changer

The Ottawa Senators made a lot of noise this season. Just not the right kind of noise. Coming off a 2016-17 campaign in which the  franchise reached its third e...
April 26, 2018

Erik Brännström cherishes the opportunity to compete with NHL stars

One by one, the established NHL players have taken over the Swedish World Championship squad. Stars like Oliver Ekman Larsson, John Klingberg and Mika Zibanejad...
April 24, 2018

Adam Boqvist looking forward to his second NHL draft

Unlike most of his peers, Adam Boqvist went to the NHL Entry Draft one summer before it was his draft year. Not because he wanted to learn about the event, take...