BROSSARD - How does Jesperi Kotkaniemi feel about centering a line with Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia? Pretty mint, to be honest.
The 19-year-old Finn heaped praise on both of his wingers on Tuesday afternoon at the Bell Sports Complex, shortly before the Canadiens departed for Buffalo.
With respect to Drouin, Kotkaniemi lauded his playing style to begin the 2019-20 campaign. And he considers himself fortunate to find himself alongside him.
"I think everybody saw what he's doing on the ice. There's no better player to play with at the moment. He's going so hard, and he's physical, too. That skill set that he has, it's pretty unbelievable," said Kotkaniemi, regarding the six-year NHL veteran. "He's full of confidence now. He got the goal in the last game [against Toronto]. His confidence is just going higher and higher, and I think the rest will start coming with that."
Video: MTL@TOR: Drouin nets goal off defender in front
Sharing the ice with Armia, meanwhile, will always be particularly special for Kotkaniemi. In addition to being a fellow countryman, of course, Armia was also the young centerman's hero growing up.
These days, though, Kotkaniemi is learning valuable lessons from Armia on a daily basis.
"I think he's one of my mentors here. Like I've said many times, he was my idol when I was a kid. He helps me a lot on the ice and off the ice," explained Kotkaniemi. "He's a hard-working guy, and you always like to play with those players."
To say that Kotkaniemi is a fan of Armia's game would be an understatement.
"If you go on YouTube and watch what he was doing in the Finnish League, you can see he had those hands there," mentioned Kotkaniemi, who is eager to see Armia get his scoring mojo going in short order. "I think he should just use those a little bit more. I think he's a hell of a player. He should just trust that more."
Support for Kotkaniemi's statement on Armia's sweet hands can be found right here…
Start on the horizon
With three games in four nights on the schedule this week, goaltender Keith Kinkaid will be making his Canadiens debut.
When the 30-year-old Farmingville, NY native gets the call remains a mystery, though.
Following the on-ice session, head coach Claude Julien still wasn't prepared to reveal his plan in between the pipes for the tilts against Buffalo (October 9), Detroit (October 10) and St. Louis (October 12).
"Carey won't play all three games. It's really a question of identifying which two games he'll play," said Julien. "Kinkaid will play the other."
Meanwhile, it hasn't taken Kinkaid long to earn the respect of his bench boss.
"He's a good person. He really integrated himself well with the group. He has a good personality. His preseason games were very good. I find him even more competitive now than he was when he first got here. There's been a lot of progress in his case," said Julien. "It's maybe a matter of feeling more and more comfortable, but I love what I see."
Video: Keith Kinkaid on possibly starting in goal
Likewise, Phillip Danault is an admirer of the seven-year veteran, too, and he has complete confidence in his abilities.
"Over the last few years, I thought he was really solid with New Jersey. I even believed he was a starter. I'd say I was surprised that we got him as a backup," mentioned Danault. "I think he still wants to prove himself. He's a very solid goaltender. We see it in practice. It's really tough to score on him."
Defenseman Shea Weber didn't skate with the group on Tuesday.
After logging 24:11 and 26:50 of ice time, respectively, against the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs, Julien elected to given the Canadiens' captain some extra downtime.
According to Julien, resting certain players every now and again will be a fairly common practice this season.
"We're going to take an approach this year that depending on the number of games, depending on the number of minutes that certain players are going to play, you'll see from time to time that we're going to give players some rest in order to perform well," explained Julien. "It's something you'll see this year."
Video: Claude Julien's post-practice press conference
Like Weber, forward Nick Cousins wasn't on the ice either - but for a different reason.
Julien indicated that Cousins is dealing with a back injury and wouldn't accompany the team to Western New York.