Kotkaniemi set for return to Montreal as ‘Canes take on Canadiens

Carolina Hurricanes/NHL

Carolina Hurricanes’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi (82) waits for a face off against the New York Islanders during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The Carolina Hurricanes travel to Montreal to take on the Canadiens Thursday, and the glaring storyline with this game is the offseason interactions between the two teams. The ‘Canes made an offer sheet this year to Montreal forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The contract was for one year and was worth $6.1 million.

The Habs didn’t match.

“I have really good memories from there. Grateful they drafted me and gave me a chance. It was a great spot to play for two years. Everybody knows they have unbelievable fans, great teammates. Couldn’t wish any better way to start my NHL career,” Kotkaniemi said Tuesday ahead of the return to Montreal.

There were more layers to this that made it more intriguing. The Canadiens made an offer sheet to Hurricanes star Sebastian Aho in 2019, Carolina matched it. So, it might be no coincidence that the signing bonus for Kotkaniemi was $20, which happens to be the same number Aho wears for the ‘Canes.

Playing against your former team is just part of hockey, but it is still a unique experience.

“He signed up for it. I think it’s going to help him. Sometimes it fuels you to have a good game and I hope that’s how he uses it. And I think this obviously doesn’t happen a lot in the league, so it’s a unique situation,” said Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal.

Staal has been in this situation before. Returning to his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, while playing for the Hurricanes.

“It was weird. If you ask any player that goes back playing a number of years in the same place, so it’s a little weird going back, but also exciting. And it’s fun, so I’m excited for K.K. And hopefully our group plays well for him,” Staal said.

Kotkaniemi’s big move to Raleigh came with lots of opinions — none he’s paid much attention to.

“I think everyone has their own opinion on that. I think I just did what’s best for me at the moment, so I feel like everyone can do whatever they want, so let’s just go with that.”

On the ice, Carolina is doing well. It’s 2-0-0 to start the season. A squad with a significant amount of new faces has meshed very well on the ice. Off the ice, Kotkaniemi is enjoying his new home in Raleigh.

“It’s been great. It’s a great spot. Guys are really great here,” he said. “The whole team is working really hard and you can see that on the ice, you know? A lot more golf carts here for sure. It’s sunny out every day, so that’s nice. So like I said before, great team, great group of guys here, so I’ve had a blast so far.”

As far as if he’s spoken to his former team, it doesn’t appear so.

“I’m just part of this team right now. I belong here, so I don’t really chat with the other team anymore that much so it will be fun to see them on the ice as the opposing team, so it will be fun,” Kotkaniemi said.

Puck drop for the Canadiens and Hurricanes is Thursday at 7 p.m.

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