The Montreal Canadiens have made a difficult decision but if the reaction of their fan base is any indication this seems like the right decision.
According to an official announcement from the Habs themselves on Saturday morning, the organization has made the move to send former first round draft pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi down to the American Hockey League where he will join the Laval Rocket for the foreseeable future. The move comes off the heels of a decision by head coach Claude Julien to make Kotkaniemi a healthy scratch this past Thursday when the Habs faced off against the Buffalo Sabres, a sign that the young forward had lost the confidence of his head coach.
You can hardly blame Kotkaniemi for his struggles this season, the youngster is only just 19 years of age and still has years of development ahead of him. Some might be quick to point out that the player drafted one spot behind him, Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk, is already an All-Star in the National Hockey League and although that is fair to point out they are two very different players and Kotkaniemi is a full year younger than Tkachuk. Those struggles however have led to this current situation and no doubt it will be a big disappointment for Kotkaniemi to head down to the American Hockey League after being at the NHL level for so long this season.
Nonetheless I mentioned that this appears to be a relatively popular decision among Habs fans and there is good reason for that. Kotkaniemi had been playing limited minutes under Claude Julien in the NHL and a move down to the AHL will allow him to get significantly more ice time in all aspects of the game. Additionally Kotkaniemi was playing in a fourth line role at the NHL level, not a role ideally suited to his skillset, and in the AHL he is much more likely to get top line minutes as well as time on the power play.
All in all this seems to be the best move given both the struggles that Kotkaniemi has faced this season as well as his need for more ice time and development. Only time will tell if he reaches the potential that so many believe he can, but this appears to be a step in the right direction.