Prospects News & Rumors: Kotkaniemi, WHL, QMJHL & More

The Montreal Canadiens are in the process of loaning Jesperi Kotkaniemi to Finland, the Western Hockey League announces an official start date for the 2020-21 season, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League postpones play for two divisions, and a top prospect for the Ottawa Senators shine in his Finnish Liiga debut.

Kotkaniemi Heading To Finland

The Canadiens are loaning Jesperi Kotkaniemi to Ässät in the Finnish Liiga. Drafted third overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, he split the 2019-20 season between the NHL and the American Hockey League. With the Laval Rocket, he amassed one goal and 12 assists in 13 games played. With Montreal, he managed to put up six goals and two assists for eight points in 36 games played. It was a bit of an underwhelming season compared to his rookie year where he had 11 goals and 34 points in 79 games played.

Kotkaniemi will be familiar with Ässät, having grown up in the area in Pori, Finland and playing for them from U16 to U20. He also played for them in the Finnish Liiga during the 2017-18 season, in which he amassed 10 goals and 29 points in 57 games played. According to The Athletic Montreal’s Arpon Basu, Kotkaniemi has been working out in Finland for the last five weeks in preparation.

He joins fellow Canadiens’ prospects Jesse Ylönen, Hayden Verbeek, Lukas Vejdemo, and Otto Leskinen who are playing in Europe after being loaned by the club. He’s expected to return to Montreal when NHL training camps open for the 2020-21 season.

WHL Announces Opening Date

The WHL has announced that their 2020-21 regular season is slated to begin on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. If the Ontario Hockey League sticks to their plan to start playing on Dec. 1, then the WHL will be the last remaining league in the Canadian Hockey League to resume play. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League already resumed play on Oct. 2. However, they are facing their own problems right now with COVID-19 cases continuing to rise in the province.

The commissioner of the WHL, Ron Robison, mentioned on a call with media that the start date of Jan. 8 is a firm start date and that training camps will begin after Christmas. The season is slated to end on May 2 and would be scheduled for a maximum of 50 games.

In a press release by the league it has been revealed that teams will only play games within their respective divisions for the 2020-21 season.

The WHL has agreed that all Regular Season games during the 2020-21 season will be played exclusively within the boundaries of each of the four Divisions, with the East Division consisting of the seven Saskatchewan and Manitoba-based teams; the Central Division consisting of the five Alberta-based teams; the B.C. Division consisting of the five B.C.-based teams; and the U.S. Division consisting of the five teams located in Washington and Oregon.

Fans will have to wait a little longer for an announcement regarding the schedule for games in each of the four divisions. The WHL stated that any announcements would come at a later date. It’s also yet to be decided if fans will be able to attend any games during the 2020-21 season. Outbreaks in the Western provinces aren’t as severe as Ontario and Quebec, so if any league has a chance to allow spectators back in the building, it’s the WHL.

QMJHL Postpones East/West Divisions

The QMJHL has announced the East and West divisions will postpone all games until Oct. 28. Those divisions amount for two-thirds of the league, consisting of 12 teams. With most of those teams being located in Quebec they are subject to COVID-19 red zones. Therefore, it has been deemed not safe to operate.

The teams affected are the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Gatineau Olympiques, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, Val-d’Or Foreurs, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, Sherbrooke Phoenix, Victoriaville Tigres, Shawinigan Cataractes, Chicoutimi Saguenéens, Québec Remparts, Baie-Comeau Drakkar, and Rimouski Océanic.

The QMJHL will reassess the situation after the Oct. 28 mark. The Maritime division teams will continue to play. However, the Moncton Wildcats will have their weekend games postponed due to the fact the region is in a COVID-19 orange zone.

Abramov Excels In Liiga Debut

Senators prospect Vitaly Abramov has adjusted nicely to life in Finland. He’s currently on loan with Jukurit in the Finnish Liiga and registered two goals in his debut with the team. One of which was a beautiful solo effort as shown below.

Abramov spent the majority of the 2019-20 season with the Belleville Senators in the AHL. He amassed 18 goals and 23 assists for 41 points in 51 games played. He finished fourth in team scoring, trailing Josh Norris, Alex Formenton and Drake Batherson. He also scored his first NHL on Oct. 10 against the St. Louis Blues. He played two games for Ottawa in the NHL during the 2019-20 season.

Abramov was originally drafted 65th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He played in 56 games for the Cleveland Monsters while a part of the Blue Jackets organization putting up 26 points. He was acquired in the trade that sent Matt Duchene to Columbus on Feb. 22, 2019. He is expected to return to the Senators when training camps open for the 2020-21 NHL season.