It took just 23 seconds for the Canadiens to take the lead during the third period on Saturday night, and they held on to pick up the win.
Even if Claude Julien’s squad demonstrated their resilience and a collective effort to earn their second straight preseason victory, though, the spotlight really was on one youngster in particular in the locker room.
Once again, Jesperi Kotkaniemi impressed the Bell Centre faithful with an excellent performance. Even if the 18-year-old Finn didn’t manage to register his name on the scoresheet, he rattled three shots off goal posts behind Senators starter Craig Anderson.
Kotkaniemi was calm during his postgame media scrum shortly after being named the game’s first star.
“I think the biggest thing is that I’m used to the rink. I think that was the biggest difference to me. I think I know the boards a little bit and stuff like that is easier every day,” explained Kotkaniemi, who centered a line with Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia. “It was unbelievable playing with them. I’ve never been with skilled players like that. It was very easy to play with them.”
Kotkaniemi’s teammates have taken notice of his steady progress since the start of training camp.
“Hoenstly, if the posts were a bit farther apart, he would’ve had a hat trick,” mentioned Drouin, who played alongside the Pori native all game long.
And, Drouin isn’t at all surprised to see Kotkaniemi thrive during the preseason.
“A third-overall pick is usually capable of dealing with the attention. He’s comfortable doing the work,” explained Drouin. “He’s gaining more and more confidence and it really shows.”
Likewise, Phillip Danault has been impressed by Kotkaniemi’s body of work thus far.
“He’s an excellent player. He has huge potential and good hands, too,” praised Danault. “It’s going to be a tough decision for Marc [Bergevin]. That’s for sure.”
The verdict is still out
Even if Kotkaniemi continues to perform well, Julien indicated that the evaluation process goes on.
The veteran bench boss will keep on monitoring Kotkaniemi’s play before deciding on his immediate future.
“It’s tough to say he has a spot. We’ll wait and make any decisions in time,” said Julien. “He’s a young kid, just 18 years old. But, I like what he’s been doing since camp started.”
Julien was particularly impressed by Kotkaniemi’s play in the win over Ottawa.
“He played with confidence and he had good scoring chances. I liked his involvement. He’s very feisty with the puck and he isn’t scared to play along the boards,” explained Julien. “He’s a kid with a lot of potential who should have a very long career ahead of him in the NHL.”
The Canadiens will have the day off from practice on Sunday before heading to Toronto to battle the Maple Leafs on Monday night.