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!

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Galchenyuk Trade: The Tip of the Iceberg

Galchenyuk

A mini-bomb anywhere in the NHL becomes a nuclear bomb in Montreal, particularly when you have some loud and disgruntled members of the media and fans who are just looking at any move to find the negative instead of trying to look at both sides of the medal. Haters? Meh. I have a problem with the cataloguing that way, just like if someone is more positive shouldn’t be tagged as ‘a lover’. The reality? There ARE two sides to a story and contrary to popular belief, putting our heads in the sand does not make things disappear.

The Canadiens announced that they had traded controversial Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi, son of former Toronto Maple Leafs’ enforcer Tie Domi. From a few reactions I’ve been reading on Twitter, few seem to like the trade. Some don’t like the fact that the organisation gave up on Galchenyuk, some think that the team should have received more in return, a few just hate whatever GM Marc Bergevin does, regardless of what it might be. Others, like yours truly, prefer trying to dig a bit more before making a judgment.

The reality is also this: Galchenyuk oozes talent. He doesn’t always show it, going stretches where he’s a non-factor. Two coaches with a combined total of just under 1,000 wins in the NHL have deemed him unfit for the centre position and in spite of that, some people think that they know better than successful professionals.

Tip of the Iceberg?

And what if, like it was the case with beloved P.K. Subban, there was more to this trade that what meets the eye? In Subban’s case, it wasn’t for the same reasons as Galchenyuk, let’s be honest here. But the correlation here is what if the true reason(s) wasn’t made public by the organisation, not to get in a dirty laundry campaign? In spite of his great talent, Subban came with baggage that NHL people knew about. Different baggage, but so does Galchenyuk.

In spite of what some will tell you, the Canadiens’ organisation has tried numerous times to help the young man ‘get things straight’. They traded away Nathan Beaulieu. They traded away Devante Smith-Pelly. All in hope that Galchenyuk could use others as ‘role-models’ to mold his young career after. After the debacle of last season, it now seems like the organisation has finally lost patience with him. Is it too soon? Maybe. But again, maybe not.

Those things folks, whether you want to admit it or choose to stick your head in the sand instead, definitely do affect a player’s value on the trade market. You’re not happy with the return? That’s fine, you’re totally entitled to think that. But at the very least, let’s try to be a little bit honest and acknowledge that the player has something to do with it. Don’t be foolish and buy into the conspiracy theory that it’s all on the GM’s head.

In the meantime, had you ever imagined that Tie Domi would, one day, be cheering for our beloved Habs? Join us Tie: Go Habs Go!