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Promotion for Suzuki, KK gets the green light

Rookie from London, ON moves up to the second line, while Finnish sophomore is cleared for contact

by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - The Habs were back at practice at the Bell Sports Complex for the first time since pausing for the holidays, and saw some changes to their line combinations up front.

The rejigging of the lines had something to do with Joel Armia's absence, after the Finnish winger left Monday's 6-2 win in Winnipeg with a hand injury and did not return.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Here are the lines and defense pairings featured at Friday���s practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.#GoHabsGo

Claude Julien told reporters after practice that Armia would be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. And though the head coach didn't provide any more detail on the injury, he did offer up his thoughts on the decision to promote rookie Nick Suzuki onto a line with Max Domi and Artturi Lehkonen.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Claude Julien confirme que Joel Armia et Paul Byron sont ��valu��s sur une base hebdomadaire.Claude Julien confirms that Joel Armia and Paul Byron are both week-to-week with their respective injuries.#GoHabsGo

"He's having a good season and he continues improving. With all the injuries we've had, he's certainly become an important player for us. If he wasn't, we'd have our backs more up against the wall," Julien said of Suzuki, who picked up four points (1G, 3A) on the team's four-game outing to Western Canada. "The way he's played this season and his intelligence, which we always knew was very strong, have allowed him to play some good games and he's been a good presence for us."

Video: Claude Julien's post-practice press conference

Suzuki was pleased to be joining the second line, and wasn't too concerned with all the switching between center and wing he's had to do this season.

"In Junior, I was always switching back and forth too; I don't find much difference. I'm just trying to get back to picking up pucks off the wall in the D zone and pinching defenseman," outlined Suzuki, who's sixth in the NHL rookie scoring race with 19 points (7G, 12A) in 37 games. "All of us can play down low and all of us can play wing so it's kind of nice to have all that."

Video: Nick Suzuki on playing with Domi and Lehkonen

Another youngster who was happy with his line assignment was sophomore center Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who took part in his first full-contact practice since suffering a concussion on December 5 against the Colorado Avalanche.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: 🔥 KK 🔥#GoHabsGo | @taikinajalka

The 19-year-old Finn admits the ordeal had not been a fun one.

"It was a pretty long time for me. It was my first first concussion ever, so it took a while," shared Kotkaniemi. "It was a little bit frustrating."

Video: Jesperi Kotkaniemi on his concussion

The concussion was Kotkaniemi's second major injury this season after groin problems kept him out from late October to mid-November, and Julien wants to ease him back into action and make it as smooth a transition as possible.

"I'd just let him get back in the lineup here. He's had two injuries that set him back, so it's not fair for me to say all of a sudden he's got to do this and do that," explained Julien, who said that Kotkaniemi was given the green light for contact on Friday morning before practice. "He just has to get back and play and find his stride a little bit. It's not easy when you're that young and you've been out for that long."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Julien confirme ��galement que Kotkaniemi a obtenu le feu vert des m��decins.Julien also confirms that Jesperi Kotkaniemi has been given the green light.#GoHabsGo

Elsewhere in the room, Minnesota native Ryan Poehling was reacting to his country's heartbreaking 6-4 loss to Canada on the opening day of World Juniors action at Ostravar Arena in the Czech Republic, admitting that he rode a roller coaster of emotions after Team USA overcame a two-goal deficit before getting scored on late in the third period.

"I was watching that. I was so fired up when they tied it up and could only celebrate for, like, three seconds and they were down again," recounted Poehling. "It was a good game, though. We'll see how it ends up in the end. I guess Canada has a good team, though."

Video: Ryan Poehling on taking on more responsibility

The Canadiens departed for Tampa immediately following practice. They open their final stretch of the 2019 calendar year against the Lightning on Saturday at Amalie Arena.

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