The Canadiens, of course, ultimately decided to pull out of the contract, opening the door for Kotkaniemi to join Carolina, while Montreal received the Hurricanes’ first and third round picks in 2022 as compensation.
But asked in a different way about these “two good options” during a virtual availability with journalists before his return to the Bell Center – “I have the feeling that if Montreal had equaled, you would be unhappy. Am I wrong or am I reading you (correctly)? – his preference has become quite clear.
“That’s a question I can’t answer,” replied the 21-year-old. “It is, I think, a little inappropriate.”
Kotkaniemi and his Hurricanes will be in Montreal Thursday night for a game that was surrounded as his move was made official.
“It was a game on my schedule that I was watching,” he said. “It will be fun to see former teammates, fans there.
“It’s going to be a killing.”
It will also be an evening full of emotions, both on the ice and in the stands.
There will be cheers for a player who adjusted to the age of 18 for Montreal and scored big goals, but also never matured to become the No.1 center that the organization hoped for. it would become.
And there will no doubt be boos, even if fans understand that signing the big-ticket offer sheet was the best thing financially for Kotkaniemi and his family.
“Everyone has their opinion,” he said. “I just did what was best for me at the moment.
“Anyone can do whatever they want … let’s go with that.”
There is no doubt that Kotkaniemi has not lived up to the expectations of Canadians. He was demoted to minors in 2019-20 and scored just five goals and 20 points in the 2020-21 campaign truncated by the NHL pandemic, which made the Hurricanes’ plunge even more surprising, even if it seemed at some level to be retribution. for the Canadiens’ failed attempt to remove RFA center Sebastian Aho from Carolina in 2019.
Kotkaniemi, who still has plenty of potential, has scored five times and added three assists in 19 playoff games in 2021 as the Canadiens had an unlikely run to the Stanley Cup final last season. But he was a good scratch to open the first round, and again in games 4 and 5 of the title series before Montreal fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
His outing meeting with head coach Dominique Ducharme seemed to last much longer than most when the Canadiens met the media on locker-cleaning day in July.
“I have really fond memories,” Kotkaniemi said Tuesday when asked if there were any hard feelings in Montreal. “I’m grateful that they drafted me and gave me a chance. It was a great place to play for three years. Everyone knows they have amazing fans, great teammates – I couldn’t ask for a better way to start my NHL career.
“It was great.”
However, he was also critical coming out of the gate for how his development was handled by a team desperate for help in the middle.
Kotkaniemi ended up being overtaken in the central pecking order by Nick Suzuki – he just signed an eight-year, $ 63 million extension last week that locks him up until 2030 – and ended his career with the Canadiens with just 22 goals and 62 points in 171 regular season games.
When asked why things hadn’t worked out with Montreal, Kotkaniemi chose to deviate.
“I think it worked out pretty well,” he said. “We went to the Stanley Cup final, but we lost.
“It was a pretty good race. “
The Hurricanes are currently trying to turn Kotkaniemi, who has indicated he is ready to sign with Carolina long-term, into a winger on their front row with Aho and Teuvo Teravainen – a pair of fellow Finns.
“The winger position is still a bit new for me,” said Kotkaniemi, who has not scored any points in two games. “They help me with this every day. Get lots of new tips and tricks.
“I’m just part of this team… I belong here.
It was probably not that long ago that he felt the same way about Montreal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 19, 2021.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press