Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi has been cleared to play in their upcoming play-in series against Pittsburgh, reports Arpon Basu of The Athletic (subscription required). His availability had been in question after he suffered a splenic injury while on assignment with AHL Laval.
The third pick back in 2018 had a difficult sophomore campaign. After putting up a respectable 34 points in 79 games as the youngest player in the NHL in 2018-19, things went in the opposite direction this season. His ice time and role dipped as did his production; injuries and general struggles limited him to just 36 games where he had only six goals and two assists.
Kotkaniemi was sent to the AHL in late January where he fared much better, averaging a point per game (1-12-13) in 13 contests before being injured in early March. He had been ruled out for the year at the time but the extra three-plus months between the scheduled end of the regular season and the planned start of the play-in round have given him enough time to recover.
How Montreal decides to use Kotkaniemi remains to be seen, if he’s high enough on the depth chart to be used at all. Phillip Danault, Nick Suzuki, and Max Domi are their current top three centers and while Domi could move to the wing, he hasn’t fared as well there which means shifting him over to play the 19-year-old may not make sense. A fourth line role likely doesn’t make much sense either. With a three-week training camp on the horizon, there’s still plenty of time for head coach Claude Julien to decide whether or not to use Kotkaniemi against the Penguins but it’s fair to wonder if there will be a spot for him.