Montreal has started the season on a tear and is currently 8-2-2 thanks to one of the deepest rosters in the league. They are leading the league in goals-per-game, which is a rendition of a Canadiens team we have not seen since the ‘70s.
Not many issues have appeared from the first 12-games, except the deterioration of Kotkaniemi’s confidence.
Montreal’s third overall draft pick from the 2018 draft has produced 1-goal and 6- assists in 12 games so far this season yet he is still only averaging 13:44 of ice-time. Even with a modest improvement in his production and being defensively reliable, Claude Julien refuses to increase his ice-time.
This last game against Ottawa was a perfect example of Julien holding back his most gifted offensive player. Yeah, your read that correctly. Kotkaniemi is more naturally gifted than Suzuki, how else do you explain him beating Suzuki out for the third-line center spot back in 2018-19, while he was a full year younger.
Kotkaniemi has played with purpose and pace through much of the season and Saturday was no exception. He created three scoring chances in the first 10 mins of the game and yet ended the game with the least amount of ice-time among all players.
He created five higher danger offensive chances, in 10:34 of ice-time. Still, he was glued to the bench for the final 6-mins of the third period. That is a great way to kill a player’s confidence.
Claude cannot seem to forget what happened during Kotkaniemi’s 36-games in 2019-20 and has decided the center who is in his third season needs to be protected more than Jake Evans, a 7th round pick, who has performed admirably but does not have nearly the same upside as Kotkaniemi.
The question burning a hole in my mind, why have a 20-year-old 3rd overall pick play under 14-mins a game, for the third season in a row, when you could have kept him in Finland? He averaged 13:44 as an 18-year-old rookie and still, Julien will not play him more.
It seems idiotic to have such a talented young player play that few minutes when he could get 20+ in Liiga, the top league in Finland.
Nick Suzuki has been given the coaches full confidence and has flourished. Suzuki is trusted to take key defensive draws, even though his faceoff winning percentage is lower than Kotkaniemi’s. Though it is still Kotkaniemi who is regularly pulled after 20-second shifts when the faceoff is in Montreal’s half of the ice.
Suzuki is given the ability to correct his mistakes on the fly and play a significant portion of the game. Media analysts and critics are quick to point to Suzuki’s production over Kotkaniemi as the reason he is deserving of more ice-time.
They rarely mention that Nick is afforded the luxury of playing with Montreal’s most talented wingers in Jonathan Drouin and Josh Anderson, plays four extra mins a night, and is on the top powerplay unit.
In other words, Suzuki is well insulated with good players around him and does not have to be fearful that his next mistake will glue him to the bench.
Kotkaniemi, on the other hand, is playing with Tyler Toffoli, who is having a magical start to the season but has done most of his damage against Vancouver and an over-the-hill Corey Perry getting paid the league minimum.
Kotkaniemi’s confidence which started the year on a high has slowly dwindled away as games have passed and his ice-time remains stagnant. Looks like Montreal is set on destroying another 3rd overall pick’s career before it really gets started.