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Kotkaniemi impressed Julien sufficient to earn the third-line centre spot at coaching camp and he performed a key position within the Canadiens’ beating the Pittsburgh Penguins within the playoff qualifying spherical, scoring two objectives within the 4 video games whereas offering a bodily presence. Kotkaniemi celebrated his 20th birthday on July 6 and seems to have turn into a person on NHL ice — even rising a playoff beard.
“KK has undoubtedly been a difference-maker on this collection,” linemate Jonathan Drouin mentioned on a video convention Tuesday. “For me, he simply appears to be like extra snug. I don’t wish to say timid when he got here within the league, however as with each younger man, you form of really feel it out. You don’t know who to hit, all that stuff. However proper now there’s not a lot pondering in his sport, which I like. He’s an enormous physique, he’s utilizing that huge physique. Clearly, he put slightly muscle throughout these three or 4 months, which is nice for us. If he retains taking part in that method, he’s going to have loads of success on this league. He’s hitting guys, he’s going to pucks, he’s not ready. He’s not trying round to see who’s going first. He needs to be the primary man on there.”
It could be good for the Canadiens if a few of that rubbed off on Drouin.
“I feel KK is taking part in actually good hockey proper now,” mentioned Joel Armia, Kotkaniemi’s different linemate. “He’s actually bodily on the ice and makes good performs. So it’s going to be loads of enjoyable.”
“I like the best way KK got here again right here assured and battling extra onerous,” teammate Phillip Danault added. “He understands loads of issues I feel (from being) within the AHL (this) season and he’s assured now.”
The Canadiens have been weak down the center for therefore a few years it’s onerous to rely. However the future is trying a lot brighter because of Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki, who had changed Danault on the No. 1 line between Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher by the top of the Penguins collection.
Rising up within the NHL isn’t simple, however it’s definitely fascinating to look at.
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