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Should Canadiens Worry About Kotkaniemi’s Early Overseas Struggles?

Jesperi Kotkaniemi hasn’t exactly gotten off to a hot start overseas playing in a Finland league he should dominate. Is that concerning?

The Montreal Canadiens are counting on Jesperi Kotkaniemi to take the next step as a center for the hockey club next season. After coming on last in 2019-20 and showing GM Marc Bergevin that he could among the team’s future pivots to build around, Montreal dealt Max Domi to the Columbus Blue Jackets and may or may not re-sign Phillip Danault based on how the young guys progress (Kotkaniemi included). As such, it’s logical to assume that Kotkaniem’s early struggles overseas might be concerning for the Canandiens.

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The Athletic’s Arpon Basu (subscription required) took a look at the center’s production in Finland of late and points out that, while playing for his hometown team of Assat in Finland’s Liiga, the 20-year-old went scoreless in his first four games before getting his first point. He’s come on a bit since then with three assists in seven games, has yet to pot his first goal.

Obviously, it’s still early and Basu notes that there’s an adjustment period that comes with learning how to play while every opponent is focused on stopping you as an offensive threat, but it’s something the Canadiens will have to watch closely. While he hasn’t had to deal with this kind of coverage during his first two seasons in the NHL, that will come. This is the time and the place where he should be making those adjustments.

Is This Really a Concern?

It’s fair to argue that having to adjust back again to larger rinks after just getting used to small rinks takes time, other prospects on other teams have made the adjustment rather quickly. This could become a concern if the production doesn’t come.

For now, the Canadiens can be patient and hope he figures it out and all of a sudden starts to put up big numbers. There’s a reason to believe he will. As for how he’s taking the lack of production:

“I try not to get too frustrated here. But yeah, I obviously want to win the games and help the team, so I should get some results out of the games too with the minutes that I play. But there’s been a little bit of bad luck, if I can say that. Tough bounces. But it’s been fun so far.”

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