The Montreal Canadiens selected Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third pick in the first round of the NHL draft on Friday night.
The 17-year-old left-handed forward from Pori, Finland produced 10 goals and 29 points in 57 regular-season games with Assat of the Finnish Elite League in 2017-18 while adding nine points in six games to lead his country to gold at the 2018 IIHF under-18 world championship.
“I was a little surprised, but I hear that they are looking for a centre. I hoped they would choose me,” said Kotkaniemi shortly after being selected.
Kotkaniemi was seen as a late first-round pick last summer but jumped to No. 6 on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s list of European skaters after being listed at No. 9 at the midpoint of the season.
The six-foot-two, 181-pound centre believes he can play with a similar style to countryman Aleksander Barkov, who the Florida Panthers drafted second in 2013.
Kotkaniemi could play on a line alongside forward Max Domi, who the Canadiens acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on June 15 and signed to a two-year contract with an average annual value of US$3.15 million.
Canadiens head coach Claude Julien met with media earlier Friday and expressed his eagerness to have Domi in the lineup in the fall.
“At the end of the day we’re trying to build a team that has an image and has an identity. What we liked about Max is first of all he’s a good hockey player. He’s got skill. I think his skill level certainly still has room to grow. He’s also a guy that’s excited to be in Montreal, wants to be in a hockey market, and has a lot of character (and) grit in his game,” said Julien.
Domi had been seen as a cornerstone as the Coyotes try to turn the corner back into a playoff team. The 23-year-old forward was one of the NHL’s best rookies after Arizona selected him with the 12th overall pick in 2013, scoring 18 goals with 34 assists in 2015-16.
Domi struggled with injuries his sophomore season and got off to a slow start this past season before finishing with nine goals and 36 assists.
Montreal sent forward Alex Galchenyuk to Arizona for Domi.