As Jesperi Kotkaniemi gets set to open up Wednesday’s game in Ottawa centring Jake Evans and Artturi Lehkonen, here’s a reminder of why he was lined up on Phillip Danault’s wing to begin with in Brendan Gallagher’s absence.
Because the discourse in the fan base around Kotkaniemi right now appears to be volleying somewhere between negative and concerned, and it’s easy to forget the progress that led him to that position, while the goals aren’t pouring in and the points aren’t piling up. Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme first put this 20-year-old centre to the right of Danault and Tomas Tatar in the first week April, and he did it in recognition of what Kotkaniemi was doing particularly well at the time.
"What he can do on the forecheck, the work he can do around the net, the plays he can make with Danault and Tatar, that will create offence," Ducharme said on April 6, the day after Gallagher went down with a fractured right thumb.
"Also, K.K. has grown and continues to grow, he’s gained experience defensively and often they find themselves facing the other team’s good players, so we have confidence in him that he’ll be able to do the job with them."
That confidence hasn’t waned, even if Ducharme glued Kotkaniemi to the bench for the final 14 minutes of Monday’s win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.