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MTL@TOR: Suzuki back at center, ready for next audition

Nick Suzuki is pumped to square off against a talented Maple Leafs lineup on Wednesday night

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - The Canadiens' previous outing against the Maple Leafs didn't exactly go as planned.

Fortunately, Claude Julien's contingent has a prime opportunity to right the ship on Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena.

In order to best their Atlantic Division rivals this time around, though, they'll have to stymie the likes of perennial scoring threats Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Kasperi Kapanen, all of whom will be in uniform.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Voici les joueurs qui feront le voyage �� Toronto pour le match de ce soir.Here are the Habs who are traveling to Toronto for tonight's game.#GoHabsGo

"It will be a good test," insisted Julien, following the morning skate at the Bell Sports Complex. "It will be a good chance for a few players to show what they can do. We'll see if they can keep up with a real NHL team."

Video: Claude Julien's pre-game press conference @ TOR

One of those players the Canadiens' bench boss will be paying close attention to is Nick Suzuki, who will center a line flanked by Charles Hudon and Jonathan Drouin.

It will mark the 20-year-old London, ON native's fourth preseason outing, and he fully appreciates the significance of delivering another memorable audition in front of team brass.

"It's definitely going to be an important one, just to show that I can compete and do what I've been doing against a full NHL lineup. It's going to be a challenge," stated Suzuki, who boasts three assists thus far in exhibition play. "The last game [against Ottawa over the weekend] was the only time I played wing. Center is my natural position. I feel really comfortable there. Hopefully, I can keep doing what I've been doing."

Video: Nick Suzuki on facing a talented Maple Leafs' squad

The Canadiens' No. 14 plans on enjoying that challenge, though, because he'll be plying his trade in front of family members and friends cheering on his every move.

"Hopefully, I can put on a good show for them," said Suzuki. "I feel a lot better on the ice than I did at the start [of training camp]. Just the legs are under me, and I feel a lot more comfortable. I don't get tired as quickly, so I'm feeling really good."

Video: FLA@MTL: Kulak redirects home Suzuki's saucer pass

Having watched the Maple Leafs growing up, playing against them is always a thrill for the former first-round selection.

"Just the amount of games I watched on TV in that building, it's going to be pretty special to play there again," said Suzuki. "Just seeing the names down their lineup, it's pretty awesome that I'm going to be playing against them."

Fellow youngster Cale Fleury is also making the trip to Toronto.

No doubt Julien will be watching him closely as well.

"He's shown me a lot. That's why he's still here. I think it's a matter of just continuing to evaluate him. That's what we're doing," said Julien, on the subject of the 20-year-old defenseman. "It's more about us giving him more games and to get a really good read on him. At the end of the day, he's either going to be here, or if he's not here, he's going to be a call-up. For us, it's important to evaluate him the right way."

Looking to get on the board

Like Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi will also be playing his fourth preseason game on Wednesday night.

And the 19-year-old Finn is hoping to finally register his name on the scoresheet in the form of a goal.

"Of course you want to get it at some point. I hope it's coming earlier than the season's first game, but it would be fun to get that tonight," mentioned Kotkaniemi, who lit the lamp on 11 occasions during his rookie campaign. "I've had a few good chances, but I just need to put those under the bar. It's that simple."

Kotkaniemi isn't one to get down on himself when production is hard to come by, though. That isn't his nature.

"Like I've said many times, I'm just doing my best," insisted the Pori native. "The whole team has to improve, and I have to improve, too."

How does he plan on doing that?

"Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to do a little too much, like hit too many guys," explained Kotkaniemi. "I need to relax a little bit and just trust my game."

Quick hits

During his post-practice press conference, Julien confirmed that Keith Kinkaid will get the start in goal against the Maple Leafs. He will play the full game.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Le gardien partant de ce soir. 😃 Tonight's starting goaltender.#GoHabsGo | @Blockaid1

He also confirmed that Paul Byron's recovery from an upper-body injury has progressed rather nicely.

"He's doing well. He's been skating for a few days on his own," said Julien. "Today was a no-contact practice, but if everything goes well, there's a good chance we'll see him on Saturday."

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