Scotty Bowman: Canadiens rookie Kotkaniemi has some Béliveau in him

Montreal Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi (15) passes as Detroit Red Wings center Luke Glendening (41) defends in the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

As if playing in Montreal wasn’t enough pressure, Canadiens rookie sensation Jesperi Kotkaniemi has attracted some hefty praise from one of hockey’s most iconic legends.

Widely regarded as the greatest coach in NHL history, former Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman spoke with NHL.com’s Dave Stubbs Friday, when he shared some of his thoughts about the team’s youngster.

“I saw Jean Béliveau with Victoriaville juniors at age 16,” said Bowman. “No one compares to Jean but Kotkaniemi, at 18, has a lot of Jean’s characteristics in his game.”

Selected third overall this past June, the Finnish forward has made an immediate impact for the Canadiens. In 48 games, Kotkaniemi has scored six goals and added 17 assists while playing 13:58 a night. Moreover, he’s put up solid possession numbers, boasting a 57.3 Corsi-for percentage in his first NHL season.

Even with those eye-popping statistics, likening Kotkaniemi to the greatest Canadiens player of all time is some applause. While the 18-year-old has been able to handle the pressure of playing in a big market like Montreal, Béliveau did so in unprecedented style.

One of the game’s greatest ambassadors, Béliveau won 17 Stanley Cups as a member of the Canadiens — 11 as a player and seven as an executive. The second closest to Béliveau’s accomplishment? Scotty Bowman with 14.

In addition to everything he brought on the ice, Béliveau was renowned for his leadership ability in and out of the rink. In 2003, the Canadiens created the Jean Béliveau Trophy, awarded annually to the player on the club who best exemplifies leadership qualities in his community.

Those are some lofty standards to live up to, but earning a fan in the Hockey Hall of Famer is a good start.

“When he’s about 22,” added Bowman, “he’ll be a No. 1 centre for Montreal.”

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