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Kotkaniemi: 'I just want to be back as fast as possible'

The 19-year-old Finn is still awaiting the green light, but he's chomping at the bit to play

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

BROSSARD - After spending the last two weeks on the sidelines with a groin injury, Jesperi Kotkaniemi's return could be on the horizon.

While the 19-year-old forward still hasn't been given the green light to play from the Canadiens' medical staff, he says his recovery is definitely trending in the right direction.

"I'm feeling pretty good. Hopefully, I'll be back soon," mentioned Kotkaniemi, who has missed six straight games and last played on October 30 in Arizona. "I just want to be back as fast as possible. Hopefully, it will be on Friday [in Washington], but it's not that big of a deal if it's Saturday [against New Jersey at the Bell Centre]. I can't wait."

Video: Can the Habs spell K-O-T-K-A-N-I-E-M-I?

Kotkaniemi is optimistic that time spent out of the lineup will help him get back on track when he finally gets the nod.

Through 12 games so far this season, the Pori, Finland has just two goals and three points, and he knows he can be far more productive offensively.

"I need to improve everything. The start from me wasn't that good, so I think now it's time to pick up my game and try to get more things going on the ice," insisted Kotkaniemi, referencing his sub-par point-haul to date. "I think it was a good little break for me. It was a little time to rest and maybe do some off-ice things, too. I should be feeling good and ready to go."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Premier match de la saison, premier but �� l'��tranger.First game of the year, first career road goal.#GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/Q3H3XlSjnE

Even though watching his teammates from afar has been tough, Kotkaniemi's trademark sense of humor remains intact.

Regarding his good buddy Victor Mete's goal-scoring prowess of late, the former third-overall selection shared a perfect one-liner after Wednesday's on-ice session…

"I think he's going for the Norris Trophy," cracked Kotkaniemi, who couldn't be happier to witness the young defenseman enjoying success. "I just love to see that he's doing well. He's buzzing out there. He has the confidence now, and he's doing things out there. That's fun to watch."

No worries, Ryan!

Following Tuesday night's shootout win over the Blue Jackets, the Canadiens assigned Ryan Poehling to the AHL's Laval Rocket.

Recalled on November 3, the 20-year-old forward was held without a point in four games with Montreal and averaged just 8:42 of ice time per outing.

According to Poehling's veteran counterparts in the Habs' locker room, however, time spent with head coach Joel Bouchard's contingent will undoubtedly prove beneficial in the long run.

Tomas Tatar, who played 265 regular-season games for Detroit's AHL affiliate - the Grand Rapids Griffins - between 2009 and 2013, is adamant that learning the ropes in Western Michigan played an integral part in his future success.

"It helped me a lot to develop into the player that I am now. I spent quite a lot of time down there. There were good lessons. We ended up winning the championship my last year there, and it gave me a lot of teaching moments in my career," explained Tatar, who amassed 87 goals and 196 points with Grand Rapids. "Sometimes for a player it's kind of hard to be down, but when you have a plan and you stick to it and work hard, you're able to get here."

Video: Tomas Tatar on the benefits of learning in the AHL

In retrospect, the eight-year NHL veteran is grateful for his lengthy AHL experience.

"I don't think it's a bad thing for anyone to go down to Laval. You're going to develop your talent there, and you're going to come to the NHL more ready," insisted Tatar. "I played a lot of games down in the AHL, and I couldn't be more thankful for those games."

Like Tatar, Phillip Danault spent significant time in the AHL ranks as well before becoming a full-time NHLer.

He believes Poehling will only benefit from his stay with the Rocket.

"Simply put, you become a pro in the AHL. You learn to play with big players. The AHL isn't that far off from the NHL. The speed is there. It will definitely be good for Poehls to get some experience there," said Danault, who played 160 regular-season games with Chicago's AHL affiliate - the Rockford IceHogs - between 2011 and 2016. "You learn a little bit of everything at the same time. It's a good spot to learn."

Video: Phillip Danault on his learning process in the AHL

Poehling has three goals and five points in 13 games with Laval thus far this year.

Progress report

With six wins in their last eight games and 23 points in the bank, the Canadiens find themselves in second place in the Atlantic Division - just three points back of the Boston Bruins.

That's a pretty good place to be through 18 contests, of course. 

According to assistant captain, Brendan Gallagher, though, this group wants even more with plenty of season left to be played.

"We're not where we want to be, but I think we're moving in the right direction," evaluated Gallagher. "I think for us right now, there's areas to improve, which is exciting, but we're in a good spot. I think the one thing this team has done really well is found a way to win some tight games, pick up points maybe when it's been a little bit of a struggle, and those are huge later on in the year. We learned that last year. I think this team, no one will ever question our character. If we can just shore up little pieces of our game and continue to get better, I think we feel pretty confident."

Video: Brendan Gallagher on the Habs' progress this season

Like Gallagher, Danault lauded the group's incredible resiliency with nearly a quarter of the season in the rearview mirror.

"I think up to this point we're happy, but we're not satisfied. We're doing a good job as a team, though. We're giving ourselves a chance to win every game," said Danault. "That's the big difference. It's fun to play every game when you know you have a chance to win. Everyone is working at practice and during games. It's been good so far."

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