Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be back in the lineup for the Canadiens when they play the Toronto Maple Leafs in NHL pre-season action Wednesday night at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).
The Canadiens’ first-round pick at this year’s NHL Draft (third overall) will play centre on a line between Jonathan Drouin and Artturi Lehkonen.
Both teams will dress close to what their rosters will look like for the NHL regular season, which starts next Wednesday, and that should provide a good test for the 18-year-old Finnish centre.
“I want to see him,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien told reporters in Brossard about Kotkaniemi following the team’s morning skate Wednesday. “I know he has a lot of confidence. He believes in himself. So far, he has not seemed to be shaken by any opposition. I think tonight will probably be his biggest and best test since the start of the training camp. Not only for him, but for the team as well.”
Carey Price is expected to play the full game in goal for the Canadiens.
“I think it’s always exciting when you get closer and closer to opening day,” the Canadiens’ Brendan Gallager told reporters after the morning skate. “You want to iron out the last little kinks and feel like you’re getting ready. For us it’s been going well, but there are some things we want to work on, get better at. It’s a great test for tonight. We’re playing a good hockey team, so hopefully we can go out and execute well.”
The Canadiens and Leafs both come into the game with 4-1-0 records during the pre-season.
Here’s how the lines and defence pairings looked during the Canadiens’ practice Wednesday morning in Brossard:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Kotkaniemi – Lehkonen
Agostino – Plekanec – Byron
Chaput – De la Rose – Scherbak
Hudon – Domi – Armia
Mete – Juulsen
Reilly – Petry
Benn – Schlemko
Alzner – Despres
Habs players all clear waivers
The five players the Canadiens put on NHL waivers on Tuesday have all cleared, meaning they will report to the AHL’s Laval Rocket.
The five players are: forwards Mike McCarron, Byron Froese and Hunter Shinkaruk, along with defencemen Brett Lernout and Rinat Valiev.
Canadiens fans will get their first chance to see John Tavares in a Maple Leafs uniform at the Bell Centre Wednesday night after he signed a seven-year, US$77-million free-agent contract this summer with Toronto.
The Canadiens were also interested in signing Tavares, but he didn’t even want to meet with Habs GM Marc Bergevin.
After the Leafs’ morning skate in Toronto Wednesday before the team flew to Montreal, Tavares was asked why he didn’t want to meet with the Canadiens.
“I just felt the teams that I met with were, when I looked at things from afar before interviewing everyone, from anything that goes into my daily life, whether it was at the rink or away from the rink, would best suit me and that’s the way I felt,” he said.
As for the Canadiens-Leafs rivalry, Tavares told reporters in Toronto: “Obviously this rivalry is one of the oldest in our game, in our league, a lot of history to it. A lot of battles for a very, very long time. So obviously two great franchises, two great fan bases and fun to be a part of it now. Even though it’s a pre-season game I’m sure it will be a great atmosphere. Just try to enjoy it and focus on what you got to do on the ice.”
When asked what kind of reception he might expect to get from Bell Centre fans Wednesday night, Tavares said: “I haven’t even thought about that. Whatever it is, I play for the Leafs so I’m sure they’re not going to like me regardless. I haven’t thought about that at all.”
When Gallagher was asked by reporters in Brossard Wednesday morning about Tavares’s decision to sign with the Leafs and turn his back on Montreal, he said: “He’s at a point in his career where he earned that opportunity and he earned that right. He wanted to be a Toronto Maple Leaf. Growing up in Toronto, that’s fair. I think we’re happy with the group we have here. We think playing for the Montreal Canadiens is special. You ask him, I’m sure he’d say the same thing. There’s a lot of things that went into that decision and for him I’m sure he’s just happy with it and fine with it. For us, we move on, business as usual, and I’m sure he’ll do the same thing.”
Peca on injured list
Forward Matthew Peca remains on the Canadiens’ injured list with what coach Claude Julien is calling a minor groin injury.
Other Canadiens on the injured list are defencemen Shea Weber, Matt Taormina, Jarret Tyszka, along with forwards Andrew Shaw and Nicolas Deslauriers.
Who’s left at camp?
Following Tuesday’s cuts, the Canadiens still had 27 healthy bodies at training camp: 15 forwards, nine defencemen and three goalies. The Canadiens have to get down to the 23-man roster limit before the start of the regular season.
Here’s who’s left at camp:
Forwards: Kenny Agostino, Joel Armia, Paul Byron, Michael Chaput, Phillip Danault, Jacob de la Rose, Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, Charles Hudon, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Artturi Lehkonen, Tomas Plekanec, Nikita Scherbak and Tomas Tatar.
Defence: Karl Alzner, Jordie Benn, Simon Després, Noah Juulsen, Victor Mete, Xavier Ouellet, Jeff Petry, Mike Reilly and David Schlemko.
Goalies: Carey Price, Antti Niemi, Charlie Lindgren.
The Canadiens will practise Friday morning in Brossard before wrapping up their pre-season schedule Saturday night in Ottawa against the Senators (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).
The Canadiens will open the NHL regular season next Wednesday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.