After being confirmed by Swedish media yesterday, the Montreal Canadiens announced the signing of Artturi Lehkonen to a three-year entry-level contract. At this point, it is unclear whether or not Lehkonen has the same stipulation that Mattias Janmark had with Dallas, which would see Lehkonen play another season with Frolunda if he fails to make the NHL team out of camp.
Artturi Lehkonen has had a meteoric rise this season (at least with mainstream media), although his production prowess and high upside have been well-known since his Liiga rookie year in 2012-2013, in which he won Rookie of the Year. His tremendous performance with TPS led Montreal to drafting him 55th overall in 2013. In 2013-2014, Lehkonen led KalPa in scoring with 20 in just 33 games (of 60), before moving to the SHL’s Frolunda Indians for the 2014-2015 season. Lehkonen’s transition to the SHL saw him fail to consistently hit the scoresheet. However, a late season surge, including a pair hat tricks, was a sign of what was to come.
This season, Lehkonen recorded 33 points in 49 games, good for sixth on Frolunda, and was among the SHL’s top even-strength scorers for most of the year. The Finn was instrumental in Frolunda’s Champions Hockey League championship, tallying 12 points in 13 games. Lehkonen brought his game to the next level in the playoffs, leading the postseason with 11 goals and 19 points while capturing the league title.
Last summer, I ranked Lehkonen eighth in my prospect rankings. I was wrong. Lehkonen surpassed my expectations–shattered them, in fact–and proved that he can be a play driver.
Lehkonen has always been a quality goalscorer. His combination of hockey sense and shooting ability make him a lethal threat from just about anywhere in the offensive zone. He has a knack for sneaking away from defenders and getting himself open. Once he receives the pass, he’s able to rapidly release a shot, typically a snapshot, with a lightning-fast release combining power and accuracy. The deft sniper shows no fear around the net, and is an excellent finisher there. Furthermore, he possesses a diverse arsenal of shots, featuring the aforementioned lethal snapper, a powerful not-quite-wrister, but not-quite-snapper either, a booming slapshot, and one of the best backhanders outside of the NHL.
There is far more to Lehkonen’s game than just goalscoring, too. As a playmaker, Lehkonen is quite effective. Although it will never be high-end, he has shown the ability to run the powerplay from the half wall with his proficiency at short-to-medium range passing. In his own zone, he is quite efficient. Rarely does he spend much time in his own zone, partly because of Frolunda’s dominance, partly because of his individual effectiveness. For a winger, he handles the puck in the defensive quite often, usually succeeding in his touches. With his stick always in a lane, Lehkonen applies pressure and creates the occasional turnover. Frolunda recognized his adeptness at blocking lanes, as he was placed on the penalty kill.
As Lehkonen has progressed, his ability to orchestrate plays has, too. He is typically one of the most noticeable players on the ice. Constantly creating chances thanks to his array of tools and up-tempo game. One area that Lehkonen really excels is creating space. With his quick hands and lethal shot, he’s able to quickly evade defenders. His aggressive nature diverts a lot of attention to himself, but he also consistently shows the ability to proactively get open.
One area that I’ve always been rather concerned with about Lehkonen is combination of size and skating. Today, I can honestly say that it is no longer a concern because of my changing perspective and Lehkonen’s progression. Lehkonen’s size itself was never a problem (the combination of size/skating was), but even this is becoming an outdated view with the emergence of more high-end “undersized” forwards. Despite his listed weight might have you believe, Lehkonen is a machine along the boards. He routinely wins puck battles through a combination of relentlessness and strategic body work. As for skating, Lehkonen’s edge work has improved a fair amount from draft day. While his top-end speed fails to match those in the NHL’s upper echelon of speedsters, his first couple step quickness is excellent and he picks his spots like few do. He often gets a jump on players simply because he reads the play at a higher rate than most.
To summarize Lehkonen’s game: A determined, diverse goalscorer with an incredible release, a solid two-way game, and high-end hockey sense.
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: Yes, for a few major reasons. Lehkonen doesn’t just score goals, play solid defence, and consistently implicate himself–he does these at a level and in a manner that is conducive to the NHL. When evaluating players, I often look for “complimentary tools.” If a player is a goalscorer at his current level, I want to see the necessary tools for scoring goals at the NHL level. These include, but are not limited to: A shot that combines power and accuracy, quick and/or deceptive release (or release point), a variety of shots, ability to shoot under pressure and/or while off-balance, hand-eye coordination for redirecting pucks and/or obtaining possession, ability to create space himself and/or teammates through stickhandling, body work, and positioning, smart positioning, time spent in the offensive zone relative to defensive zone, etc.
Lehkonen has all of these, and more!
Another reason why I believe Lehkonen can make the NHL is because of the current depth chart. At left wing, the Montreal Canadiens have Max Pacioretty, Daniel Carr, and a whack load of question marks. Paul Byron is best suited for a fourth-line role, while Lucas Lessio and Stefan Matteau are both low-upside players who have yet to prove anything in the NHL. While the abundance of centres (Galchenyuk, Plekanec, Eller, Desharnais, Flynn, Mitchell, and Danault), while undoubtedly push onto the wing, this will be decided in training camp and throughout the season.
Thanks to Lehkonen’s combination of high-end shooting, hockey sense, and defensive ability, I believe that he can jump up the depth chart, perhaps even ahead of Carr, and make an impact in the NHL.