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Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be a healthy scratch against the Kings

The rookie, who has exceeded all expectations in his first NHL campaign, will sit on the sidelines for the first time all year tonight.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

In a surprising development, Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be a healthy scratch for tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, with deadline acquisition Jordan Weal assuming the Finnish rookie’s position on the third line.

When asked about the decision, head coach Claude Julien cited that the youngster had appeared tired in recent games and lacked his usual effectiveness.

In his last ten games, starting from the Canadiens’ 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Nashville Predators, Kotkaniemi had seen his ice-time per game drop to 13:47. While this is only marginally below his seasonal average of 14:04, it’s a considerable decrease from the 14:48 that he played in the ten games prior to the Nashville encounter. There have also been few signs of decline from a statistical standpoint, as the Finn had notched five points in both ten game stretches.

Nonetheless, it has to be noted that Kotkaniemi is not only one of five players to have played every game for the Habs this year, but the 66 consecutive games he has played exceeds the 57 games he played last season for Ässät Pori—indeed, the Liiga team only featured in 67 games (60 regular season and 7 playoff) for the entire 2017-18 campaign.

The insertion of the 5’10” 179 pound Weal for the 6’2” 184 pound Kotkaniemi should indicate that Julien is not making this move in an attempt to match up pound-for-pound with the larger Kings squad. That having been said, Weal’s style of play is arguably better suited to withstand the Kings’ cycle-and-grind game relative to Kotkaniemi’s game, which is largely predicated on positioning and clever stickwork.

Regardless of the motivation, it’s hard to argue that Kotkaniemi hasn’t deserved a break based on his play so far this season. His relegation to the sidelines gives everyone an opportunity to examine just how much of an impact the first-year centre has made to this Canadiens squad.