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.

More reading…

The Situation at Center

By Bob Trask – The center ice position has been a bone of contention for the Montreal Canadiens for as long as most of us can remember. There have been some solid individual players like Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec but not much depth and never a superstar.

Marc Bergevin tried to address the situation through trades (Jonathan Drouin) and the draft (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) but came up short. After the season mercifully ended for the Canadiens, Kent Hughes took his first swing at improving the center ice position with the acquisition of Kirby Dach.

So how do the Canadiens look now?

Incremental Improvements

Nick Suzuki

The Canadiens don’t have a 1-2 tandem like Auston Matthews and John Tavares in Toronto but there should be some incremental improvements internally.

Nick Suzuki is still only 23 years old and should continue to improve over the next 3-4 years. Jake Evans is 26 years old and has played less than 2 full season in the NHL. He has the potential to improve as well. Christian Dvorak is also 26 years old and showed marked improvement once Martin St-Louis took over as coach.

With a lot of players not reaching their full potential until they are about 28 years old, incremental improvements from this trio shouldn’t be unexpected. And with St-Louis behind the bench the improvement from the group could be more than expected.

Dach vs Poehling

With three centers returning (at this point anyway), it is fair to compare Kirby Dach to Ryan Poehling for the remaining center position. That doesn’t mean Dach will start on the 4th line as Poehling often did but the players share similar attributes.

Both players are on the bigger side – with Dach have a 2″ height advantage – but neither are particularly physical players. Poehling and Dach have both suffered wrist injuries that may have affected their offensive performance – and Poehling has also been sidelined more than once with “upper body” injuries.

Kirby Dach

In watching highlights of both players, Dach seems to be the more skilled puck handler and statistics support this argument to some degree. However, Dach may have had the opportunity to play with skilled linemates more often than Poehling so the comparison may not be entirely fair.

Poehling also had a better shooting percentage than Dach. Some of that may be attributed to Dach’s wrist injury but Poehling might just be a better shooter. It’s hard to know at this point.

A quick comparison of the two players can be seen here:


I am not sure how to read the stats but it seems like Dach may have contributed more defensively base on his DPS (defensive point share) numbers.

The Wild Card

The wild card in all of this is the Pierre-Luc Dubois situation. There has been a lot of chatter about a potential trade to Montreal but until it happens, if it happens, the Canadiens have to proceed with what they have – Suzuki, Dvorak, Dach and Evans.

The Potential

Of all the current Canadiens’ centers, Kirby Dach has the potential to show the greatest improvement. A 45 point season from Dach along with incremental improvements from Suzuki, Dvorak and Evans would give Montreal the best depth at center it has had in years.

More reading…