The future is called Kotkaniemi and Poehling

Ryan Poehling’s outstanding performance on Saturday against the Maple Leafs will allow the Canadiens’ management and many of his fans to have a much more enjoyable summer.

The reset process was already well underway with, among other things, Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s performances this winter. Poehling gave tangible proof of his potential by scoring three goals and getting the winning goal in shootout.

Fans, and even many analysts, often need something concrete before deciding on a hope, despite the achievements of the latter in the minor circuits.

Poehling, 20 years since January, will not become the next Auston Matthews. His statistics in the NCAA do not suggest it. But the many clues show that it will become a solid center, capable of producing offensively, effectively defensive, robust, contagious energy and emotion.

In this respect, the comparisons with Mikko Koivu or Ryan O’Reilly seem more accurate.

Nothing, of course, guarantees it. But the course of a young player usually allows us to draw a clear enough portrait of its potential.

Playing a pivotal role at 18-19 in his NCAA team, St. Cloud State, is another indication of a young player’s future. The young man has 31 points in 36 games in each of his last two seasons, often at the center of his two brothers , Jack and Nick, less productive wingers.

Also, most importantly, Poehling has been named the MVP at the most recent World Junior Championship. We do not receive this title by chance and its recipients rarely fail in the NHL thereafter.

Of course there are Jesse Puljujarvi, fourth overall pick in 2016, winner of the MVP of the tournament that same year, still lost in Edmonton in his third professional season, to remind us that there are exceptions, but other winners in recent years include Thomas Chabot, Filip Forsberg, John Gibson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brayden Schenn, Jordan Eberle, John Tavares, Steve Mason and Carey Price.

The Canadiens will have a top-notch squad in a year or two because Phillip Danault, Poehling and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are in the center, with the luxury of putting Max Domi back on the wing, his natural position, to strengthen the one of the first two trios.

Several clues allow us to believe that Jesperi … (PHOTO BERNARD BRAULT, THE PRESS) – image 2.0
There are several indications that Jesperi Kotkaniemi will become a leading center.


As in the case of Poehling, there are several indications that Kotkaniemi will become a leading center.

For the purpose of projection, do not analyze the current Kotkaniemi, still a little frail, still very young at 18 (18 months less than Poehling), overwhelmed by fatigue at the end of the season, but the Kotkaniemi of 2020, 2021.

The young man will have added 15, 20 pounds to his frame, will be more powerful, more confident, more experienced. Take Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers. Only 24 points, including eight goals, in 54 games in his first season in the NHL, and 36 points in 71 games in his second.

His future, however, was written in heaven. He has amassed 96 points in 82 games this winter, at age 23, and is also one of the best defensive players in the NHL.

At 18, Anze Kopitar earned just 20 points, including eight goals, in 47 games … in the Swedish Elite League. He had not yet matured physically.

Kotkaniemi not only managed to secure a position in Montreal at such a young age, he also collected 34 points.

They are not alone. Nick Suzuki, 19, won Max Pacioretty’s exchange, has just earned 94 points in 59 games in the Ontario Hockey League. He had amassed 100 points in 64 games the previous year.

Suzuki may still fail in his attempt to become a dominant player in the National League, but generally, a boy who flirts with the 100 points three years in a row in the junior ranks is promised an interesting future. The opposite is rarer.

Brendan Gallagher was not well-known to the average 18-year-old fan. But three consecutive seasons of 40 or more goals in the junior ranks, and his selection on the Canadian team for the World Junior Championship when he was a modest fifth-round pick, let us see an interesting future.

Another striker, Jesse Ylonen, a second-round pick in 2018, the year of Kotkaniemi, also gives us the clues of a sure progression. At just 19, Ylonen earned 20 points in his last 28 games in the Finnish Elite League, after amassing just seven in his first 25.

By way of comparison, neither Michael McCarron nor Louis Leblanc produced in the junior ranks at a pace that could give us hope for a great career in the NHL.

Jacob De La Rose showed us the signs of a defensive player with interesting potential, but never his statistics in the Swedish Elite League or the American League suggested the arrival of an offensive player, unlike Poehling, Kotkaniemi, Suzuki or Ylonen.

The number of players drafted in the last two years will see whether Allan McShane, Cole Fonstad, Brett Stapley, Joni Ikonen or Cam Hillis will not stand out.

The hopes of the CH will not join an old group of attackers. Max Domi is 23, Jonathan Drouin 24, Phillip Danault 26, Brendan Gallagher 26, Tomas Tatar 28, Andrew Shaw 27, Joel Armia 25 and Artturi Lehkonen 23.

The situation is a bit more complex in defense. Did Shea Weber play injured at the end of the season? We hope so, because otherwise, its performances in the final right would indicate a significant regression, especially in terms of mobility.

Seeing the performance of Weber decline seriously over the next few years would not be ideal in a context of growth of the rest of the workforce, especially since Weber has an important leadership to ensure.

Still on the right side, Jeff Petry has just had another satisfying season and flirted with the 50 points for the first time in his career (46 points). He still has some good seasons in the body.

The young candidates on the right do not miss out for the last available position: Noah Juulsen, Josh Brook, 75 points in 59 games in his last junior year, and Cale Fleury, surprising efficiency in his first pro year in Laval.

In this context, it would be surprising to see Christian Folin, unrestricted free from 1 st July return to the organization despite good services rendered.

The left side of the defense remains to be rebuilt. Victor Mete showed a good progression after his minor spell this fall, and Brett Kulak assured in important moments, but the Canadian must count on a leading left-handed defender to complete his top 4 and put Kulak in a more positive position. adapted to his abilities within the third pair.

But hopeful Alexander Romanov will not make the leap to North America before the 2020-2021 season because of his contractual obligations with CSKA Moscow.

Speaking of Romanov, there are several indications that he too will have a great career in the NHL. Not only did he manage to earn a job with CSKA at just 18, a rarity for a defenseman in such a prestigious organization, but he was named the defenseman par excellence at the World Junior Championship.

In a long term perspective, the Canadian will perhaps find a left defender at the draft with the 15 th pick, a position on the whole favorable.

The Golden Knights Vegas have researched the gifted young Erik Brannstrom this 15 th spot in 2017. Jakob Chychrun was drafted 16 th rank in 2016, Thomas Chabot to 18 th rank in 2015 and Travis Sanheim to 17 th rank in 2014.

In the meantime, there are not a thousand solutions. The free agent market does not offer much, if not maybe Jake Gardiner. Perhaps Alexander Edler, but it would be a temporary solution when it should be put under long-term contract.

Marc Bergevin will have to maneuver skillfully and take advantage of his surplus of young talented attackers to attract a leading left-handed defender.

The Canadiens will not become a dominant team until they find this prominent left-handed defender.

For the rest, it would be really pessimistic to not realize that the best is coming for the CH.