Claude Julien Opens Up on Kotkaniemi

By JD Lagrange – Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s time with the Montreal Canadiens has been one of controversy from day one. Many fans were upset when his name was announced at the 2018 NHL Draft, third overall by the Canadiens. And the way he left the team, signing an overblown offer-sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes, controversy continued to follow him in Montreal.

He has had his ups and downs in between, granted. But overall, one must admit that the Kotkaniemi experience hasn’t been a good one… much like Alex Galchenyuk, also a third overall pick by the Canadiens. In retrospect, many will point that it has been two big missed opportunities by the Canadiens, wasting valuable picks… although one would have to acknowledge that Galchenyuk did end up bringing in Josh Anderson.

When asked if Kotkaniemi was a failed selection, Marc Bergevin was rather clear. “To say it’s a flat-out mistake, there’s a team out there that thinks he’s worth 6.1 million bucks, so there’s some potential that we saw and that, obviously, Carolina sees.”

Claude Julien

A couple of days ago, while on BPM Sports’ Le Choc des Idées, former Canadiens’ head coach Claude Julien felt the need to share some inside information which might help better understand a few things. Why wasn’t Bergevin keen and in a hurry to re-sign the one they nicknamed KK, and why didn’t they match the offer? It seems like the organisation wasn’t totally satisfied with the attitude and progress of their young center.

“Kotkaniemi can become the player that he can become… if he wants to himself”, said Julien. “Everyone was trying to help him, but at some point, even if you help a player, he has to help himself too.”

If that doesn’t paint a clearer picture in your mind, I don’t know what will. That’s coming from his own coach and it’s not the first time we heard rumblings about KK’s attitude. But Julien hasn’t necessarily given hope for the young man’s future, but he will have to change, according to his former coach.

“Sometimes, it takes 2-3-4 years before a young player becomes mature enough et gets to recognize his own strengths and weaknesses, and work on that”, added Julien. “Now, Kotkaniemi must take the next steps to help himself.”

Christian Dvorak

Some people like to claim that Christian Dvorak was acquired to replace departing Phillip Danault but it’s not the case. It’s not until the Hurricanes signed Kotkaniemi to his offer-sheet and Bergevin made the decision not to match that he traded for Dvorak. Plus, he used the compensatory first round pick from the Canes to obtain the then 25 year-old Coyotes’ center.

If you recall, Bergevin’s comments on Kotkaniemi were very much along the lines of what Julien said this week.

“KK didn’t show enough growth in his game/maturity issues and we were not confident with matching that offer-sheet”, said Bergevin back then. “We didn’t feel comfortable with bringing back a guy that clearly wants to leave. Also, some of our coaches/players told me they were not pleased with Jesperi for signing that offer-sheet. Dvorak, whom we’ve just acquired from Arizona, is a more mature player, better defensively, and we think he will match/be better with our team than KK would have been for us.”

“At the end of the day, we really like the acquisition of Christian Dvorak, who we were able with one of those draft picks (as compensation for Kotkaniemi) to go get this young center to help the organization for several years since he is signed, from our point of view, to a good salary cap that fits in well in the organization’s structure,” Bergevin added.

Let’s have a look to see if Bergevin was right in his comments about Dvorak and Kotkaniemi.

This season is really tight statistically speaking between the two players, as you will see. It’s important to note that the Canadiens are 26th overall in the NHL, battling through injuries, while the Hurricanes form a much better team, sitting second, behind only the Boston Bruins:

1:57PP TOI/GP1:58
2:26PK TOI/GP0:10
$4.45MCAP HIT$4.82M

Now let’s compare since the 2021-22 season, with Dvorak in a Habs’ uniform and Kotkaniemi with the Canes, shall we?

2:12PP TOI/GP1:33
2:02PK TOI/GP0:05

I guess Bergevin was right after all, at least thus far. True that Kotkaniemi should continue to improve, but the Canadiens should also start playing some better hockey, providing better support for Dvorak as well.

That being said, it’s beside the point of the article. It seems clear that Kotkaniemi’s issue, much like Galchenyuk (with his father’s bad influence), was between the ears and not a physical skills’ issue. I certainly don’t wish the young man anything bad, but my allegiance is with the Montreal Canadiens. It has always been, and it will be until the day that I die.

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Addressing The Need On Right Defense

By JD Lagrange – The Canadiens have one glaring need for a right-handed defenseman, a need that has been amplified by the trade of Jeff Petry. You can now add a second need in goal, since Carey Price’s season – perhaps career – appears in jeopardy due to a hailing knee, prompting the team to have contract extension talks with Jake Allen.

But what I want to focus on is the gaping hole on right defense. After trading Petry, Canadiens’ General Manager Kent Hughes was clear when stating that he would like to add a veteran right-shot defenseman. For whatever reason, he has yet to be able to do so. As training camps are about to get underway, the Canadiens’ options are more limited, but there are still a few valuable potential solutions out there.


There are two names that come to mind when it comes to right-handed defensemen who have yet to sign with a NHL club.

P.K Subban: He doesn’t need introduction, does he? He’s dynamic, he has a good shot and he knows the team, the place, the fans, the media. That familiarity goes both ways though. He’s often distracted with his off-ice business, he has slowed down a lot, he’s well known by referees (not in a good way). Personally, I would stay away from him.

Anton Stralman: Known as an ultimate professional, he’s been flying under the radar his entire career. He too has slowed down but he was still playing over 21 minutes a game last season. He’s good at everything he does, although not outstanding in any category. He could buy a year of development for young Justin Barron.

0:35PP TOI/GP0:08
0:52PK TOI/GP2:56


Another option is addressing the need through trade. While there are likely more opportunities out there, two names are at the top of my personal list.

1- The New York Rangers are shopping Nils Lundkvist and speculations are rampant around the Canadiens. Now, news came out confirming that he will not attend the Rangers’ training camp. But don’t expect GM Chris Drury to fold like a cheap tent. He has a price in mind and he won’t flinch, as proven when Vitali Kravstov held out a year ago.

2- Some less reliable rumouroids are tying the Habs to Oilers’ veteran Tyson Barrie. I could definitely see either one of them as a good option. Barrie has two years remaining to his contract with a respectable cap hit of $4.5 million per season. Last year was the first time he played under 21 minutes a game since the 2013-14 season, and it was due to the Oilers now having Cody Ceci and young Evan Bouchard taking more minutes. He would greatly help the Canadiens’ anemic power play.


Ethan Bear

Another option, particularly getting this late in the off-season, is to way to see which team(s) are going to try sneaking players through waivers. As the Canadiens finished dead last in the standings last season, they will have first dib at any player sent through waivers.

Carolina added Brent Burns on RD. They signed Calvin De Haan to a PTO, he who can play both left or right defense. They also have Ethan Bear, Dylan Coghlan and Jalen Chatfield on the right side. All must clear waivers.

Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Seattle (Cale Fleury, Brogan Rafferty?), Colorado, Detroit, Anaheim and Arizona are teams to keep an eye on as well, as they have lots of depth on defensemen who must clear waivers.


So unless the right deal comes about through trade, you get the feeling that the Canadiens will wait to see what will come through on the waiver wire prior to the season to start. And if that fails, they may turn to a UFA.

What I do know is that it’s less than ideal to play a defenseman on his wrong side. It’s even worse when it’s a young player trying to adapt to the speed of the NHL. As Hughes recognized, he must find a solution as relying on 20 year-old Barron to be ready is a huge gamble. The Canadiens cannot afford to burn the kid.

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