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Kotkaniemi: 'I was expecting that Montreal was going to take me'

After meeting with the Canadiens' brass at the 2018 NHL Combine, Jesperi Kotkaniemi hoped Montreal would soon be his hockey home

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL - Jesperi Kotkaniemi will never forget his dining experience with the Canadiens' brass during the 2018 NHL Combine in Buffalo.

"That was kind of weird," recalled Kotkaniemi with a laugh. "Some guys tried to joke with me a little bit. I wasn't sure when they were joking and when they weren't. They were keeping a poker face all the time. I wasn't sure when I should answer and when I shouldn't."

Fortunately for the Finnish centerman, a lifeline in the form of Dr. David Scott - the club's sports psychology consultant - was nearby and willing to lend a helping hand.

"He was sitting on the other side of the table," mentioned Kotkaniemi with a smile. "He showed me when I could answer and when I shouldn't."

Fun days in Buffalo🦅 #nhlcombine

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Earlier in the day, the young pivot was quizzed by club staff on a variety of topics during a formal interview.

It was one of "25 or 26" meetings Kotkaniemi remembers participating in over the course of his stay in Western New York.

"That was a pretty good meeting," recollected Kotkaniemi. "I knew before the meeting that they were looking for a center, so I thought that could be me. I tried to be sharp when I went in there. I knew that it went well and they were pretty comfortable with me."

Even so, the interview portion of the annual event did cause the Pori native some stress. But, he managed to keep it in check with the help of some of his countrymen.

"I came to Buffalo with Rasmus Kupari and Sampo Ranta. I spent whatever time I had with those guys," said Kotkaniemi. "We would talk about the meetings we'd already had. It was good to hear what other teams had told them and what kind of guys you'd be talking to."

When it was Kotkaniemi's turn to put his physical attributes on display, he was equally keen on being sharp and maintaining his focus, too.

In retrospect, the public nature of the testing at HarborCenter didn't distract him one bit.

"It's kind of the same thing like what you have during games. You kind of forget the crowd and you just focus on what you're doing," insisted Kotkaniemi, who felt prepared for the tests courtesy of his training back home in Scandinavia. "In Finland, we practice a lot and we're running a lot and lifting weights more than here in North America, so I was ready when I got there. It was good."

It should come as no surprise, though, that he would've appreciated if some of those tests weren't necessarily required.

"I've never been a big fan of the bike tests, VO2 max and the Wingate. Let's just say those aren't my favorites," cracked Kotkaniemi. "But, they're part of the job. You're doing those every year."

Almost one year later…

Nearly 12 months have passed since Kotkaniemi attended the NHL Combine, and so much has happened since.

"Time is flying every day," reminisced Kotkaniemi, who would go on to be selected third overall by the Canadiens last June in Dallas and eventually make the big club out of training camp. "It's going fast."

Video: Jesperi Kotkaniemi's first day as a Hab | #NHLDraft

Admittedly, though, his current employers threw him for a bit of a loop last summer in Texas when a pair of top prospects - Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina - were invited to attend a supper at the team hotel prior to Round 1.

"I was expecting that Montreal was going to take me. At least, I hoped they would," concluded Kotkaniemi. "Before the Draft, you guys posted the dinner with the other prospects, so I was like 'What's happening here?' But, it was a happy ending."

Video: Habs meet with Zadina and Svechnikov in Dallas

It most definitely was.

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