Jesperi Kotkaniemi was the player everyone wanted to see.
The third overall pick in the NHL Draft would always garner a bit more attention at the team’s development camp, but this time there was more intrigue. For many fans and media, it would be the first time they would see him play live.
Imagine not even being 18 yet, but having the focus of a full crowd watching you play hockey for the first time, hoping for the future with every stride. Imagine the burden of expectations on you every time the puck is on your stick. Now imagine it being the first time you’re on the ice in three weeks against some players who are as many as eight years older than you.
Oh, and the logo on your chest? The franchise you’re the hope for? It just happens to be the logo of the Montreal Canadiens.
Pretty daunting, right? Not for Kotkaniemi, who was cool as can be.
“No,” he responded when asked if he felt more pressure, with a smile. “It’s just hockey.”
Kotkaniemi was not happy with his first scrimmage on the Friday evening of development camp, and didn’t seem to stick out for better or for worse.
“[Friday] wasn’t maybe the best day but it’s getting better,” he said before Saturday’s scrimmage. “The last time I was on the ice was three weeks ago so it didn’t feel that good [Friday] but it’s getting better.”
And sure enough Kotkaniemi did get noticeably better as the week went on. His chemistry with Jesse Ylönen was evident and he was able to make his own plays as well.
Kotkaniemi ended up signing his entry-level contract after Sunday’s scrimmage and general manager Marc Bergevin said that he will be at training camp.
When asked what he feels he needs to do before he starts his NHL career, he mentioned that he wants to try to get more power in his body.
“Maybe after that I’m ready to come here,” he said.
Saturday was also a fun day for the native of Finland as it was announced hours before that the team had acquired Joel Armia from the Winnipeg Jets.
Kotkaniemi was a big fan of Armia’s when he played for the same team that Kotkaniemi plays for now. Kotkaniemi actually had a poster of Armia on his wall despite being seven years apart.
“I was 10 years old and he played with Ässät and he was my biggest idol so I watched him a lot,” he said.
Kotkaniemi said he met Armia a few times before as the team won the championship while Kotkaniemi’s father, Mikael, was an assistant coach.
In September, they will meet again. But this time will be different. They will be teammates.