For three seasons, the Montreal Canadiens were Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s NHL club. On Thursday night, Kotkaniemi will play with his new club Carolina Hurricanes against Montreal, and the 21-year-old is very much looking forward to the dust.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi has long had October 21 embedded in his calendar. Tonight, he meets his former teammates when the Carolina Hurricanes visit the Montreal Canadiens.
– It was a match that I immediately looked up in the match schedule. It will be fun to see old teammates and fans. It’s going to be a lot of fun, says Kotkaniemi according to the NHL’s website.
He did not have to wait long to meet his former club – the match is Carolina’s third of the season.
The Hurricanes have started strong with victories over the New York Islanders and Nashville Predators. Now Carolina is chasing its third straight victory, and Kotkaniemi his first points as a Carolina player.
Kotkaniemi tells nhl.com that he is still getting used to life in his new hometown and playing left-handed instead of center.
– It has been nice here and the guys are superb. The whole team works really hard, which can be seen on the ice. It’s nice to be a part of such a team.
Varying last season in the Canadiens
Jesperi Kotkaniemi accounted for 62 points (22 goals and 40 assists) in 171 regular season games and twelve points (9 + 3) in 29 playoff games during his three seasons with the Canadiens. Montreal selected him as the third player overall in the 2018 NHL draft.
But last season was two-, or really three-part, for Kotkaniemi. There were only 20 points (5 + 15) in 56 games in the regular season, but he was Montreal’s second best goal scorer (5 + 3 = 8) in the playoffs.
But then it still got a bitter taste in his mouth when he was not allowed to play in the last two Stanley Cup finals against Tampa Bay Lightning.
Then the following happened: Kotkaniemi became a free agent, after which Carolina offered a substantial offer worth over six million dollars for the bear citizen. Montreal did not match the offer and thus a move south was a fact.
– Well that ends well. I am very happy to be here, says Kotkaniemi.
On the other hand, he had probably enjoyed himself in Montreal as well.
– I have good memories from there. I’m grateful they drafted me and gave me the chance. It was a great place to play for three years. Everyone knows they have incredible fans and great teammates. Will not in a better way have had to start his NHL career.
On Thursday, it will be clear if the acclaimed Montrealan supporters clap or bow to Kotkaniemi, or if there is any reaction at all. The opposing camp includes compatriots Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen, possibly also Sami Niku.
In addition to Kotkaniemi, Carolina Hurricanes has recruited compatriot Antti Raanta and goalkeeper colleague Frederik Andersen, as well as defenders such as Ian Cole and Tony DeAngelo and strikers such as Derek Stepan and Josh Leivo. On the other hand, the extremely important hill Dougie Hamilton left the club in favor of the New Jersey Devils, and among those who moved away was also the hill Jani Hakanpää.
Despite Hakanpää’s sorti, Finns do not end up primarily in Carolina. In recent days, Kotkaniemi has trained in the first chain with compatriots Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teräväinen.
– I like being here, we have a good team: no first, second, third or fourth chains, but four really good chains. So just being part of the lineup is good. The competition is fierce and it is important to do your best every day.
Kotkaniemi can become a free agent again after the current season, but he hopes he could stay with the Hurricanes for a longer time.
– I would absolutely not mind it. As I said: we are a hard working group, everyone wants to move forward and everyone wants to win the Stanley Cup. That is absolutely the most important thing here, says Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the NHL’s website.
The Carolina Hurricanes have won the Stanley Cup once, in 2006. The team’s current head coach Rod Brind’Amour was then the champion team captain.