The Montreal Canadiens fan base has not had a lot of things to cheer for as of late but on Saturday they were granted a rare moment of celebration.
Although the Canadiens have not been on the national radar as much as of late given their recent run of failure over the past few seasons, Habs fans have been paying very close attention to training camp this year. That's largely due to the fact that center Jesperi Kotkaniemi has burst out onto the scene for the Canadiens and has provided the fan base with some hope that he could be the center they have been so desperate for.
For years now the Canadiens fan base and the Canadiens organization has been desperate for a true #1 or #2 type of center but year after year the organization and Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin have failed to either acquire one through the means of a trade or by drafting a young talent that could develop into such a player.
Kotkaniemi was of course the Canadiens 1st round draft pick (3rd overall) in the 2018 National Hockey League Entry Draft and although there were many who expected that he would continue to develop prior to making the jump to the NHL, Kotkaniemi clearly had other plans. The 18 year old center has been nothing short of dynamic during training camp and after a number of outstanding performances during the training camp and preseason there was very little question regarding whether or not he deserved to be on the starting roster.
On Saturday Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien made it official when the media gathered around him prior to Montreal's Saturday night match up against the Ottawa Senators. Julien informed reporters that Kotkaniemi would be starting the season in Montreal with the big boys club and now all that remains to be seen is whether or not Kotkaniemi's play at the NHL level will be enough to earn him a more permanent roster spot.
The Canadiens can in theory utilize the first 9 games of the regular season, or at least the first 9 games in which Kotkaniemi will play in, to continue their scouting effort and evaluation of Kotkaniemi. Prior to hitting the 10 game mark the Canadiens could send Kotkaniemi back down without burning a year of his current contract and although that now seems unlikely it certainly remains a possibility in the minds of both Bergevin and Julien.
How well the 18 year old Finnish sensation will play against the full NHL rosters of his opposition and against grown men, men that in some cases will literally be twice his age, will likely determine how likely he is to remain on the Habs main roster for the duration of the 2018 - 2019 NHL regular season. It's clear that the expectation is now that Kotkaniemi will be a center for the Canadiens for several years to come, and given the lack of depth that the Canadiens have had up the middle it seems like the spot is his to lose.
Probably the best news that Habs fans have received in several long and painful months.