On Saturday night the Montreal Canadiens played their tenth game of the season, and with it Jesperi Kotkaniemi burned through the first year of his entry-level contract. The third-overall pick from June has impressed with his play in the early going, despite still looking for his first NHL goal. Four assists and a fine showing at both ends of the rink has kept him in Montreal, and will for the next few weeks at the very least. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin told reporters today that they’ll reassess the situation in 10-15 games, but that right now “the plan is to keep him in Montreal.”
The Canadiens have been better than many expected in the early part of the season, and trail the Toronto Maple Leafs by just two points for the Atlantic Division lead. They’ve only allowed 25 goals so far, thanks in part to a solid effort from their center group that was so derided in the offseason. While Max Domi has easily been the most impressive player in the middle for the Canadiens, Kotkaniemi has given them a legitimate third option that can be relied on for around 14 minutes a night. That is an outstanding feat for a player that won’t turn 19 until July, and one that hadn’t played in North America prior to this year.
One team that is hoping that the Canadiens change their mind is the Finnish World Junior squad, who look like they’ll be quite depleted this season. Kotkaniemi and Miro Heiskanen in Dallas would likely have been two of the best players in the tournament, but don’t look like they’ll be sent to take part. That could obviously change, but if Montreal believes he can help them compete for the playoffs this year, Kotkaniemi will remain in the lineup.