As Habs open training camp, newcomers hope Finnish connection clicks


The Montreal media had a chance to get to know newcomer Joel Armia Thursday but they seemed more interested in finding out what Armia knows about rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

As It turns out, he doesn’t know  much.

“I didn’t know much before this summer when I met him,” Armia said after going through a medical exam and a battery of fitness tests on the opening day of the Canadiens’ training camp in Brossard  “He’s a really good guy and he’s going to be a very good player.” 

Armia and Kotkaniemi are from Pori, a deep-water port on Finland’s west coast, and Kotkaniemi said Armia was one of his heroes growing up. Armia played for Assat Pori in the Finnish Liiga as a 19-year-old when Kotkaniemi’s father Mikael, was an assistant coach, but he has only vague memories of the 12-year-old who idolized him.   

“All the little kids below us would come to watch,” said Armia.

Kotkaniemi isn’t a little kid anymore. He’s 6-foot-2 and 188 pounds and he’s attempting to make the jump from Assat to the NHL after being selected third overall in the NHL Entry Draft in June.

“It’s tough to say, everybody’s different,” Armia said when asked about Kotkaniemi’s chances of sticking in the NHL. “I hope he has a great camp and I hope he can make the team, but you never know.

“The game in Europe is so different,” added Armia. “Here, everything happens so fast. You need to get used to it. It took me a while, but hopefully it won’t take that long for him.”

Armia spent one more year in Finland after the Buffalo Sabres drafted him the first round (16th overall) in 2011 and then played in the AHL for two seasons before catching on with the Winnipeg Jet in 2015.

“For me, I’m here, so I guess it was good,” Armia said when asked about his path to the NHL.

Armia was traded to the Canadiens on June 30 in a deal that sent minor-league defenceman Simon Bourque to the Jets, while the Canadiens picked up Armia and goaltender Steve Mason, whose contract was immediately bought out.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Armia established career highs for games played (79), goals (17) and points (29) last season, and is expected to add size and depth to the right wing position.

He has spent the past 10 days getting to know the city with fellow Finn Artturi Lehkonen acting as a guide. They were  teammates on Finland’s world junior team in 2013.

Armia said his goal is to play his game and work hard on the ice, and he displayed optimism when asked how he felt about going from a payoff team to a lottery team.

“I hope this team is going to make the playoffs, too,” he said.

Armia and about 60 other players will hit the ice for the first time Friday morning. There will be another morning session Saturday and the Canadiens will move to the Bell Centre Sunday for an intra-squad game at 1 p.m.

The Canadiens’ first preseason game will be Monday night when the New Jersey Devils visit the Bell Centre. That game and Wednesday night’s home game against the Florida Panthers will be televised on TSN and RDS.

TSN announced Thursday that it will televise 50 Canadiens games in the coming season. With John Bartlett moving back to Sportsnet to call Toronto Maple Leafs games, Bryan Mudryk will handle the play-by-play with Dave Poulin, Mike Johnson and Craig Button providing analysis on a rotating basis.

phickey@postmedia.com

twitter.com/zababes1

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