Featured

Only Two Options for Kotkaniemi

KotkaDraft

Who said life was easy and that decisions were straightforward, that things were black or white? We’re all faced with though decisions, wondering if we made the right one. Whether it’s about the post-secondary school you are going to attend or the subject you’ll be taking, or the job offers, the woman or man in your life, it’s hard to know for sure what to do. Just yesterday, I bought a new (to me) truck and I had a hard time picking between two. I still don’t know if I made the right decision but at some point, one has to make that difficult decision. Hockey is no different for people in the business, for those who have to balance what’s good for a player, a team, in the short, medium or long term.

Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens are weeks away from having to make that difficult decision once again with a couple of their top prospects. As they decided to keep Alex Galchenyuk with the big club as an 18 year-old in his rookie season, they are facing the same dilemma with Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. In the case of Suzuki, they have two choices: back to junior or stay in Montreal. Because of regulations between junior clubs, the AHL and the NHL, he cannot play for the Laval Rockets. If I had to bet money, I’d say that he will play one more year junior but your guess is as good as mine.

Kotkaniemi’s situation is slightly different in the sense that since he’s not coming from junior hockey, he can go to the AHL and be developed by newly hired coach Joël Bouchard. So for him, there are three choices: the NHL, the AHL or back to Ässät in the Liiga Finnish Elite League, where he played last season, cumulating 29 points in 57 games as an 18 year-old. And that’s where Bergevin and his management group have to be very careful as they cannot afford to let this one slip as did Galchenyuk.

The consensus is that Kotkaniemi is proving not only to Habs’ fans and management, but to the entire NHL that being picked third overall wasn’t a stretch. He is improving with every exhibition game he’s playing in, showcasing his great hockey IQ. He has the skills, the demeanour and frame to play in the NHL today. He just needs to add some meat on his teenage bones. Standing at 6-foot 2-inches, he only weighs 184 lbs and playing against the biggest, fastest and strongest players in the world, it’s a huge risk for injuries.

The AHL option

Kotkaniemi’s situation is not without reminding me of an Edmonton Oilers former first overall pick. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had the talent to play in the NHL. He had the smarts, the speed, the hands and the height to play at that level. What he didn’t have quite yet is the weight… and he spent a few years on the injured list. Some around the NHL, particularly the Oilers, will argue that it slowed down his development. Had he had the option of playing in Europe against men, things could have been different for him. He was too strong for junior, not physically mature enough for the NHL.

Personally, I would strongly suggest that the AHL is not the place for the Canadiens’ top prospect. When the NHL, in their ‘wisdom’, decided to go to a two-referees system, they not only killed consistency by putting two different judgments on the ice, but they added incompetent people in places where they have no business being in. Worse, it created a ripple effect in every single league below. Guys who shouldn’t be in the AHL are now officiating in that league, at a level over their head, creating a dangerous situation for players down there.

Sending Kotkaniemi to play under Bouchard would be ideal as he would be at proximity to better monitor his ice time, his game situation and he could receive a call-up if or when need be. It would also throw him to the wolves, playing against men who have aspirations to make a name for themselves and showing the kid what North American hockey is all about. Opposing coaches would be targeting him in their game plan and you can bet that intimidation would be in their plan to get him out of his game… or out of the game. As a matter of fact, I would venture to say that the NHL is a better option than the AHL.

NHL or Ässät

KotkaniemiAssatOn the other hand, the best option for the Canadiens’ young protege would be the Finish Elite League, playing under his father Mikael, who playing him on the wing last season, but who already said that he’s willing to put him at centre if that’s the Habs’ brass’ wish. Playing on the bigger ice surface, where he can continue working on his skating and puck skills, would be in my opinion not only the best option, but the only option if Bergevin and coach Claude Julien judge that he needs some maturing. In addition, the team would keep him one more year under their control as his professional contract would be differed.

In the meantime, we will enjoy watching this kid continue to strut his stuff, getting an entire fanbase excited about the prospect of having him centre one of the top lines, possible with Suzuki and other top centre prospect Ryan Poehling. Go Habs Go!

Top Cheese: September 2018 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as training camp is in full gear and the Canadiens are working at making amends for a poor season last year. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Three exhibition games down, four more to go and while no one should read too much in pre-season results, the fact is that this year is a lot better for fans’ morale than what the team showed at the same time last season when they won two of the eight games they played. So far, they beat the New Jersey Devils and the Washington Capitals, while dropping a game against a veteran-filled Florida Panthers’ line-up. It is exciting to see a bunch of new faces in a Habs’ uniform and the battles for a spot are very interesting to watch as well.

bannièrehabs2

Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Max Domi deserves to be suspended for a sucker punch on Florida Panthers’ defenseman Aaron Ekblad. It was clear that Ekblad wanted nothing to do with fighting Domi and those putting the blame on the defenseman for “not defending himself” or “not expecting the punch” are way out of line. No, he did not expect it and no, he did not protect himself… nor should he have to. If we can tell Ekblad’s intentions on TV, Domi should have been able to see the same looking into his eyes. Habs’ fans spent years defending Alexei Emelin because he couldn’t fight because he had a metal plate by his cheek and they now blame Ekblad for refusing to fight because of his concussion history? I’m sorry folks but that doesn’t sit well with me.

bannièrehabs2

Back when he was the NHL’s Vice-President and in charge of discipline, Brian Burke – who loves the rough stuff and fighting in hockey – condemned Tie Domi‘s sucker punch on then bad guy Ulf Samuelsson. “If anyone thinks that it’s an acceptable response to a verbal taunting, I’ve got news for you because it’s not.” Tie received an eight game (regular season) suspension for his action.

This action by Max Domi doesn’t define him as a hockey player or as an individual and people, particularly those who aren’t happy about the fact that Marc Bergevin traded Alex Galchenyuk for him, should not hold that against him or make an early judgment.

bannièrehabs2

Now on to more positive news. A few  young prospects are doing very well for themselves so far at camp. One of them is none other than the Canadiens’ first pick at this year’s draft, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who seems more and more comfortable as pre-season progresses. In a Cinderella-like story, he scored his first goal in a Habs’ uniform in his first game at the Bell Centre, and while fans are discovering his great skills, he is showing good composure for such a young man. Jokingly (and to rub it in a bit), I posted this after his goal:

 

bannièrehabs2

Another young man doing things well and drawing praise from everyone is Nick Suzuki, acquired in the Max Pacioretty trade along with Tomas Tatar and a second round pick. He’s showing great composure with the puck and finds himself on the right side of the puck defensively as well. And he’s only 19 folks! Claude Julien likes what he sees of him and you can be sure that he will be given every opportunity to show what he can do before the team makes a decision in his case.

bannièrehabs2

Last but not least, defenseman Josh Brook has also opened the eyes of many as did Victor Mete at last year’s camp. Not the biggest guy, he makes quick decisions with the puck and plays his angles very well. All of that while wearing number 76, a number which, by the way, was handed to him by the organization, not because he asked for it (so don’t be too quick to hate him). If we go by performances only, he ranks third amongst right-handed defensemen at camp, with only Jeff Petry and Noah Juulsen surpassing him on the right side. Unless the team suffers further injuries, it would be unlikely to see him earn a spot in the opening day line-up but he will be on the radar.

bannièrehabs2

Jonathan Drouin was flattered to see that he had an “A” on his jersey for the game against the Florida Panthers and he had this to say:

“I want to lead this team … I want to be one of the leaders on the squad.” ~ Jonathan Drouin

When asked after the game if management was sending a message to Drouin by putting an “A” on his jersey, Julien said:

“A couple of things. Jonathan came in this year in much better shape than he was last year and he did a lot of good things during the summer. We’re playing preseason games and those guys, you reward them for those kind of things. Tonight with our lineup I thought he was worthy of wearing an ‘A’ and I wanted him to wear it with pride and play the way we wanted him to play and that’s the reason he got the ‘A’. We’re moving them around. We’ll probably get some new ones tomorrow as we play it game by game.”

You can bet that Drouin appreciated the gesture and that he is slowly but surely taking on a bigger leadership role, even at the tender age of 23. Moved to the wing while Domi was available, he seemed more comfortable.

bannièrehabs2

Speaking of letters on the jersey, much has been said and written about the vacant spot left by the departure of team captain Max Pacioretty. Who will be his replacement? Do they need to have a captain? Here’s my humble opinion on the topic: Yes, yes they do need a captain. And they have two very solid candidates for the position:

Brendan Gallagher is a born leader. He was captain of the Vancouver Giants in the WHL and has been wearing the “A” on his jersey for a couple of seasons now with the Canadiens. No one will outwork him so he’s a leader by example. And in normal time, I’d say: give it to him.

SheaWeberA
Shea Weber should be the team’s next captain.

But when you have a guy like Shea Weber on your team, a Mark Messier Award winner, an alternate captain for Team Canada, former captain of the Nashville Predators for many seasons, you simply cannot pass that along. Weber is not the type to be phased or intimidated by reporters. As a matter of fact, he’s the one who brings the fear of God in them, as did guys like Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson back in the days. And if he stands up in the dressing room, you bet that everyone is listening. In my opinion, he will be the Canadiens’ captain. Whether it’s announced before the season starts or when he’s ready to come back, we’ll see.

bannièrehabs2

When Marc Bergevin told everyone at the end of last season that there needs to be an attitude change in the dressing room, he wasn’t talking about Weber – who was out with an injury – or about Brendan Gallagher. He wasn’t talking about Paul Byron or even Jeff Petry. Seeing the moves that have been made this summer, the finger was obviously pointed to Pacioretty, who completely folded like a towel when things got tough, and about Galchenyuk whose effort simply wasn’t there.

But something tells me that he wasn’t impressed with his biggest leader, Carey Price, and I’m convinced that he had a long talk with him. Bergevin committed a lot of money in Price and most see him as one of the team’s biggest leaders. But much like Pacioretty, he too seemed to have packed it in early last year. True leaders don’t do that. Look at Jonathan Toews and Connor McDavid. They gave it all in spite of their teams’ lack of success. Bergevin wants Price to have that mentality. He needs Price to be like them… and he will.

bannièrehabs2

Love him or hate him, Marc Bergevin did extremely well in comparison to his peers in his trades of big name players. When you look at what the Buffalo Sabres received for Evander Kane (conditional 1st, conditional 4th and former 5th round pick Danny O’Regan), and what Don Waddell and the Hurricanes received for Jeff Skinner (2nd, 3rd and 6th round pick and former 3rd round pick Cliff Pu), how can someone not be happy with what the Habs receive for Pacioretty? Getting a 20-25 goals’ scorer in Tomas Tatar, three years younger than Pacioretty and under contract for another three years, former first round pick Nick Suzuki and a 2nd round pick is an excellent return. Further, he convinced George McPhee and the Golden Knights to pick up $500,000 of Tatar’s contract for each year remaining on his contract?

bannièrehabs2

Then rewind a bit… Many fans are still hurt by the fact that P.K. Subban is no longer in Montreal but the Canadiens received Shea Weber in return! Shea freakin’ Weber! Pierre Dorion probably wishes he could have received a Weber in return for a much, much better defenseman than Subban when he traded his captain Erik Karlsson to San Jose. What did he get? In exchange for Karlsson, the Senators received four players: Chris Tierney (career high 40 points), Dylan DeMelo (bottom pairing defenseman), former 1st round pick Josh Norris and former 5th round pick Rudolfs Balcers. They also got a 1st and a 2nd round pick and if Karlsson re-signs with the Sharks, they get another 2nd round pick. Now if you’re from the school that quantity equals quality, you will like this one but most hockey experts are unanimous in saying that Doug Wilson robbed Pierre Dorion in this one. This trade makes Bergevin look like Sam Pollock!

bannièrehabs2

So here you have it folks! Your Canadiens are NOT is as bad of a shape as some want you to believe. As a matter of fact, they are in pretty good hands in spite of what those who are still butt-hurt by the Subban trade are trying to make you believe. The future is bright and the sun will rise again tomorrow in Montreal. Enjoy this time of year and hop in for the ride, it will be a fun season! Go Habs Go!!!

Advertisements