What to do with the “Finnish Line”

The “Finnish Line” celebrates a goal BERNARD BRAULT, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

As we speak, the Montreal Canadiens are in the midst of building their roster for the 2019-2020 NHL season. With just under $7.5 Million in cap space remaining according to CapFriendly, the question looms over what to do with RFA’s Joel Armia and Arturri Lehkonen, who both filed for arbitration on Friday.

The Canadiens have spent their time in free agency addressing depth forwards like Nick Cousins, Riley Barber, and Phil Varone. While at the same time addressing needs on left D through Ben Chariot, and finally getting a strong backup goalie in Keith Kinkaid. The depth moves that have filled up the bottom six have called into question the two Finns value to the Canadiens. As it has been well documented, Canadiens prospects Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling may be ready to make the jump to the NHL. If they are indeed ready, the space needs to be there to do so.

That being said, the two players alongside Jesperi Kotkaniemi made up the very successful “Finnish Line”. This which allowed Kotkaniemi to develop as an 18-year old center in the tough Montreal market. The two wingers complimented Kotkaniemi very well, and provided a line that played successful two-way hockey. Which is why that I believe that Armia and Lehkonen are vital to Kotkaniemi’s development.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi sets up for a faceoff JPierre-Paul Poulin / JdeM

When you look at players like Kotkaniemi, comfort is important to development. I cannot imagine the the feeling of leaving Finland, and coming to Montreal as an 18-year old. Having fellow countrymen, and native Finnish speakers may have been key to establishing him to the city, and the NHL. In 54 games together as a line, the trio put up a 61 per cent corsi when 5v5. After a very successful season as an 18-year old, removing part of that success would at best be a lateral move. Will Kotkaniemi need to play with more skilled players to further his development? Absolutely; but as a 19-year old, his sophomore season is the key to building on what he accomplished last season. Assuming that Kotkaniemi will start next season alongside them, that comfort and chemistry will be on the ice from day one.

Even without this Finnish connection, Armia and Lehkonen still have value to Montreal. Putting aside the point production, both forwards provide much needed defensive skills both during even strength, but in Armia’s case, the penalty kill is where he shines. Armia’s corsi on the penalty kill was just under 20 per cent. While this doesn’t seem like a good number, it was only just under Selke trophy winner Mark Stone.

Would I like Marc Bergevin to make a splash? Absolutely, but I would much rather he deal from a position of strength with that move. Why break up a successful line that can develop his star center? The Canadiens have assets that can be moved to grab that left defensemen or star winger.

Will the pair of Finns be in Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge longterm? Perhaps not, but the key to the Canadiens future at center, lies in their hands.

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