BROSSARD - Eighteen-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi will start the regular season with the Canadiens.
Head coach Claude Julien confirmed the news following Saturday's morning skate at the Bell Sports Complex, before the team departed for their final preseason game in Ottawa.
Kotkaniemi, who won't be in uniform against the Senators, was visibly pleased to learn that he'd achieved his goal just three months after being selected third overall in the NHL Draft.
"It's definitely a great feeling. It's been my dream since I was a little kid, so now I'm a little closer to getting here," said Kotkaniemi, who registered one goal, three points and a plus-5 differential in five preseason outings. "I think I played well in those games. I think management was happy with what I did there. Now, I'm getting my chance to show what I've got."
Video: Jesperi Kotkaniemi on starting the season in Montreal
Admittedly, Kotkaniemi didn't know what to expect when he was called into a meeting with the Habs' brass before hitting the ice on the South Shore, but his stellar play night after night ultimately earned him a coveted roster spot with the big club.
"We talked about it a lot, and we decided that he will start the season in Montreal. It's good news for him and for us, too. We were very impressed," praised Julien, on the subject of the Finnish centerman. "I think he showed enough for us to feel very comfortable keeping him here for the start of the year."
As for the meeting itself, the veteran bench boss indicated that Kotkaniemi remained his usual humble self when he found out that his NHL career was about to begin for real.
"He was happy, for sure. But, he's someone who's grounded, too. He's realistic," explained Julien. "He even told us that he knows he still has to improve, so he's already taking the right approach and he has the right mentality in order to become a good NHL player."
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference
No doubt Kotkaniemi is now counting down the days until Wednesday, October 3, when he could be making his NHL debut in the regular-season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena.
"It's always a privilege to wear a Habs jersey. I enjoy that moment every time," mentioned the Pori native, who has quickly adapted to the North American game. "I'm getting more comfortable every day, so it's getting better."
So, how will Kotkaniemi celebrate his latest accomplishment? He plans on keeping things rather calm on Saturday night in Montreal.
"I'll take it easy and watch the game," he said.