BROSSARD - Did you enjoy watching Jesperi Kotkaniemi last season? Just wait until the you see the 19-year-old Finn now.
Kotkaniemi began his second training camp with the Canadiens at the Bell Sports Complex on Thursday. And he's a far different youngster than he was during the 2018-19 campaign.
The centerman hit the gym hard this summer to put on 14 pounds of muscle heading into the traditional physical and medical exam day.
Kotkaniemi's physical development was perfectly natural for an athlete who you'll recall was the first player born in the 2000s to play a game in one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America.
"It's a normal transition for any player. It's also a question of maintaining his speed and his agility. That's what really counts. It's a really good thing for his age," explained the Canadiens' sports science and performance director, Pierre Allard.
Video: Pierre Allard on evaluating players' fitness
Allard and his team also had the opportunity to see Kotkaniemi at work for a few weeks during the summer, and the strength and conditioning staff was thrilled with his improvements in the weight room.
"He was already doing very well in the gym. With respect to his play on the ice, we'll see in the near future. In the gym, he's quick and we like what we see from him," mentioned Allard.
For his part, Kotkaniemi recognizes that adding muscle should help him on the ice.
The Pori, Finland native still wants to develop his game, though, in order to become a more complete player.
"I want to improve in every aspect of my game. I wasn't strong enough last season," stressed Kotkaniemi, who registered 11 goals and 34 points in his rookie season. "With a few extra pounds, I know that things should go better this year."
As a freshman, the 6-foot-2 forward also learned about the rigors of the NHL schedule.
Before reaching the NHL ranks, Kotkaniemi played 57 regular-season game with Pori Assat in the Finnish Elite League, in addition to appearing in seven playoff contests.
Last season, the Canadiens' first-round pick in 2018 participated in rookie camp and his first NHL training camp before suiting up for 79 games with the Habs.
During the offseason, Kotkaniemi made a serious effort to ensure he could play at least all 82 games on the 2019-20 regular-season schedule.
"Last year, I found it to be a lot games. You have to be ready for every shift and every second. You always have to be focused," explained Kotkaniemi. "A hockey season is long. I did a lot of running and a lot of biking during the summer. I'll be ready for the 82 games."
Video: Jesperi Kotkaniemi on his development over the summer
Kotkaniemi's frame certainly didn't go unnoticed by the media on Thursday. His teammates took notice, too.
Nate Thompson, who only spent a few months with Kotkaniemi last season, was quite impressed.
"I think he should only get better. You can see he's had a really good summer. You can tell, just by seeing him. He looks great. Knowing what to expect, he went through all the rigors of a first long season, and I think that he can only build off that," explained Thompson. "I saw him in a short sample size in two months, but I was very impressed. He's a very highly-skilled guy that I think is going to have a long career in this League."
Kotkaniemi and the 56 other players on the training camp roster will take part in their first on-ice sessions on Friday in Brossard.