BROSSARD - The Canadiens have a good soldier in Steve Ott, and head coach Claude Julien couldn't be happier to have him on board.
Following Tuesday's morning skate, Julien confirmed that Ott would return to the lineup in place of Michael McCarron to face off against the Detroit Red Wings, his most recent employer before GM Marc Bergevin acquired his services at the trade deadline three weeks ago.
After being a healthy scratch in the Canadiens' 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night at the Bell Centre, Julien is bringing the 34-year-old veteran centerman back into the mix and featuring him on a line in between Dwight King and Torrey Mitchell.
To say that Julien has been impressed by what he's seen from Ott so far - both on and off the ice - is a complete understatement.
"He brings a lot of energy. He hits. He does a lot of things. He's an experienced guy. On the penalty kill, he's a guy who blocks shots. Off the ice, he's extremely good in the dressing room. He'll stand up when he needs to stand up. He'll loosen up that room when he feels that it's a little tight and it needs to loosen up," praised Julien, on the subject of Ott's attributes that quickly caught his eye.
"Sometimes, we measure players on just their on-ice abilities, and we forget how big they are when it comes to off-ice and what he does for our group of players. He's certainly one of the best when it comes to that," added Julien, clearly a fan of the intangibles No. 92 brings to the table night after night.
Video: Claude Julien's press conference
No doubt Ott will be keeping his new teammates loose when he goes up against his former club for the first time after playing 42 games for the Red Wings during the 2016-17 campaign.
While the prospect of being on the other side of the ice so soon after switching sides might be nerve-wracking to some players, that isn't the case for Ott this time around. He's used to that experience, having been in a similar situation three times before since debuting back in 2002-03.
"Going back to Dallas or Buffalo or St. Louis, you play against your friends. They expect you to be you. That's the thing, I can be friends with them after the game, or still later on in life, but when the puck drops they expect you to play how you play the game," said Ott, who has one assist in six appearances with the Canadiens. "They would expect that, and I hope they would do the same thing."
Growing up in Windsor, ON just across the river from Detroit, Ott's childhood hockey heros were Hall-of-Famer Steve Yzerman and tough guy Bob Probert, so his connection to the Red Wings runs deep. Seeing the club struggle and be on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1989-90 is particularly tough for him.
"I know those guys over there are really taking it hard. It almost feels like you're letting down the city or the jersey or the players before you. They take a lot of onus on that. There's a proud dressing room over there with some great leaders with [Niklas] Kronwall and [Henrik] Zetterberg and Abby [Justin Abdelkader], and there's a lot of guys who've been there for a long time like Darren Helm and Jimmy Howard," said Ott, in reference to the Red Wings' remarkable run of 25 straight postseason appearances likely coming to an end soon. "When you have guys like that, that put a lot of pride into that streak, it's extremely disappointing and I know they feel it's a tough situation all around."
Video: Steve Ott on facing his former team
With that in mind, the former first-round pick is hopeful that the organization will be able to get back on track shortly.
"There's a lot to be proud of to be a Red Wing over there. For myself growing up a Red Wings fan, it meant a lot to me to be able to play in front of a lot of friends and family every night. I made a lot of close friends out there on that team as well," mentioned Ott. "Going forward, I wish them all the best for the city and I know they're going to be excited for the new rink and the closing out The Joe [on April 8]."
On Tuesday night, though, Ott will be entirely focused on trying to help the Canadiens pick up their third straight win - and, as per usual, he'll likely throw out a fun chirp or two along the way.
"Trust me, I hear it. I heard it when he was on the other team, too," cracked Julien. "He's got a great sense of humor. Nothing is personal. He goes back and forth. Most of the time, he's already chirping at the guys he knows well. This is all part of his identity, but he does have good one-liners. I've heard them from both ends."