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NHL Draft

Kotkaniemi right fit for Canadiens at No. 3 in NHL Draft

Center selected with Tkachuk, Zadina still available

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

DALLAS -- The Montreal Canadiens got exactly what they were looking for with the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft on Friday: center Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

"Oh boy. You think I would say I'm not happy?" Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin said. "I'm extremely happy."

Bergevin on Thursday talked of his options at No. 3, perhaps even trading to move up or down. But Kotkaniemi proved to be the right fit and was chosen instead of left wing Brady Tkachuk (who went No. 4 to the Ottawa Senators) and right wing Filip Zadina (who went No. 6 to the Detroit Red Wings).

 

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Kotkaniemi played wing this season with Assat in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, but said that was because the 17-year-old was the youngest center. Bergevin said it shouldn't be long before Kotkaniemi can reach the NHL.

"The way he plays the game, he plays the right way," Bergevin said. "He's committed offensively, he has a flair around the net, he moves the puck well, and in his own end he's very responsible. He's not a big guy (6-foot-1, 188 pounds) but he has a frame that you can fill in.

"The way we evaluate him, as he's getting more mature, he'll gain more confidence. He's pushing upward."

Video: The crew discusses Montreal's intriguing draft pick

Kotkaniemi called himself "a cool guy," someone who can handle pressure and big moments. He still had the expected reaction a few minutes after the Canadiens drafted him.

"I was a little nervous about this moment, but I think I'm doing pretty well at the moment," he said. "I was a little surprised, but I heard they were looking for centers, so I hoped they would choose me and they did. I'm excited at the moment."

Kotkaniemi had 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 57 games with Assat. He helped Finland win the IIHF World Junior U18 Championship, scoring nine points (three goals, six assists) in seven games.

"I'm mostly a playmaker," Kotkaniemi said. "I love to find the passing lanes. That's my thing. But I also have a good shot. I have to use it a little bit more, I think. I'm a big guy. I love to go into the corners and battle hard. That's my thing."

The Canadiens have been building depth at center; they selected Ryan Poehling of St. Cloud State with the No. 25 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

"I feel really happy for the Montreal Canadiens moving forward," Bergevin said. "With Poehling coming, [Kotkaniemi], I think we'll have a solid down-the-middle line for years to come. So the future in that position, which is a very important position, I think it's right."

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