Artturi Lehkonen: The Epitome of Hard Work

Photo: Kamerapress, All Over Press (mtv.fi)

Photo: Kamerapress, All Over Press (mtv.fi)

It’s Artturi Lehkonen’s first game donning a new jersey, in a new league, in a new country. Mattias Janmark races through the neutral zone, gains the offensive zone, and then passes to Robin Figren. Figren steps into a slapshot, which generates a rebound. The rebound ricochets off the defender and lands in front of Lehkonen, who is alone beside the open cage. For most, this is where mistakes happen–in the first game with a new team, with a prime scoring opportunity–but not for the 19-year-old Lehkonen. Calm, cool, and collected, Lehkonen settles the puck and spins all in one motion, shifting to his forehand and slapping the puck just beyond the goaltender’s outstretched pad. The puck slides into the net, with just enough power to hit the twine–his first goal on his first shot in the Swedish Hockey League. The thunderous goal horn and the crowd’s cheers boom through the Scandinavium, while Lehkonen does his trademark belt celebration and the announcer yells “Arrrtturrriiiiiiiiii Lehkonen!”

It would take until Lehkonen’s fifth game before he would find twine again, but it was certainly worth the wait. In a striking similar play, Figren takes a shot and it deflects off a defenders skate. The puck appears to be following Lehkonen, who is driving the net. Even though there’s a defender draped over him, Lehkonen is able to kick the puck to his stick. Despite being off-balance, he’s able to shoot the puck while falling down. The puck squeaks through the pad and blocker of the goaltender and finds twine. It’s goal that epitomizes Lehkonen’s game–relentless hard work, high-end hockey sense, and plenty of skill.

Those three traits–hard work, hockey sense, and skill–are what makes Lehkonen such a special player. He has played men’s professional hockey since the age of 16, and by the time he was 18-years-old, Lehkonen led KalPa (a team in Finland’s top tier of hockey) in scoring, despite playing just 33 of 60 games. When Lehkonen left Finland for Frölunda HC in Sweden, many questions surfaced. Will he receive ice time? Will his lack of size and strength cause his game to stagnate? And will he continue his success in Sweden? It has been 21 games between the Swedish Hockey League and Champions Hockey League, and considering Lehkonen’s success so far, it’s safe to begin to answer them.

There hasn’t been an issue with Lehkonen’s ice time so far, considering he has averaged 14:36 per game, eighth most among forwards on one of the Swedish Hockey League’s top teams. Lehkonen also receives considerable powerplay time on the second unit, and is impressive even-strength producer, sitting fourth (seven points) amongst all Frölunda HC skaters. Since the first game, Lehkonen has demonstrated excellent chemistry with Robin Figren and Mattias Janmark–two skilled players in their own right.

Lehkonen battles for control of the puck.  Photo: Andreas L Eriksson, Bildbyrån

Lehkonen battles for control of the puck.
Photo: Andreas L Eriksson, Bildbyrån

Standing at just 5’11” 163-pounds, Lehkonen is tiny, and it’s quite noticeable on the ice, but don’t tell him that. The undersized forward plays the game with no fear. He thrives along the boards and in the corners, where he’s surprisingly strong and balanced on his skates. Additionally, he battles like few players do, and that alone allows him to win puck battles. Within five feet of the net is where he’s best. Lehkonen’s hand-eye coordination, soft hands, surprising strength, and relentless work ethic allow him to be a clinical finisher around the goal.

Not only has Lehkonen been able to continue his success, but he has been able to build upon it in Sweden. Lehkonen looks faster and quicker than before. He’s always been a slippery player, but now he has another gear. The extra speed allows him be more engaged in all three zones, as well as make him deadlier offensive threat. The Finn has noticeably improved his playmaking, demonstrating the ability to link up with passes he previous was unable to.

One of the biggest concerns about Lehkonen’s game is whether or not he can be a consistent offensive threat. 21 games into season, Lehkonen has shown glimpses of emerging as one. He’s consistently involved in chances, and he is creating them with a higher level of regularity than in previous years. 13 points in 21 games is not a mind-blowing total; however, Lehkonen’s overall contributions reflect a greater total.

There are still plenty of aspects that Lehkonen needs to improve on, the most overt of which is shooting. Simply put, Lehkonen must shoot more, as he’s averaging a mere 1.75 shots per game. Lehkonen also misses the net on 60% of his shot attempts. As he gains a better understanding of shooting angles, time, and space, Lehkonen should get the puck on net more consistently. It’s only a minor issue at this point, and in recent games Lehkonen has been pulling the trigger more.

Lehkonen doesn’t possess the classic model of high-end skill–he’s not one to constantly dangle around others, nor is he a dynamic threat; however, he doesn’t have to. Instead, he excels at sneaking away from defenders, where his deft hands and lightning-quick snapshot allow him to deposit the puck in the back of the net in the blink of an eye. Lehkonen may never lead an offence; however, he’s an excellent complementary player and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign remains that Lehkonen hasn’t deviated away from his game. Despite a thin frame and a history of injuries, he has always maintained a exceptional work ethic and unending hunger for victory. Lehkonen epitomizes hard work, which is a tremendous combination with his excellent skill level and high-end hockey sense. If Lehkonen dons the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge one day, it will be because of those three traits.

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