Elite Frölunda system develops Lehkonen, Ikonen

Frolunda

Photo: Wall.Alphacoders.com

Montreal Canadiens draft picks Artturi Lehkonen and Joni Ikonen both share something in common. Lehkonen has recently graduated from the Frölunda Hockey Club system and Ikonen is currently developing in it. Also, Max Friberg, who captained the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate last season will head overseas to play for the club for the 2017-18 season.

Lehkonen & Ikonen

Arthur Lehkonen (LW) was drafted 55th overall (2nd round) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Habs. At the time of his draft year, he was playing professional hockey in Finland with the KalPa club. But prior to coming to North America, Lehkonen elected to move to Sweden rather than the AHL and play two full seasons in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) with Frölunda.

Joni Ikonen (C/RW) was drafted 58th overall (2nd round) in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens. After playing Junior B and Junior C hockey for the Blues in Finland, Ikonen made his way to Frölunda in 2015. In 2015-16, he played on their J18 squads and in 2016-17 he split time between their J18, J20 and professional top level teams.

Frölunda: HISTORY

The Västra Frölunda sports organization added a hockey department in 1944 and the club became completely independent in 1984. Based out of Göteborg, Sweden along the south-west coast, Frölunda Hockey Club plays in the Scandinavium which opened in 1971. The Scandinavium holds a capacity of 12,044 for ice hockey games – making it the third largest indoor arena in the nation.

Frölunda HC (also known as the Frölunda Indians) have seen their fair share of ups and downs throughout club history, but in recent years they have seen great success. They have seen six consecutive playoff appearances, including a national championship victory in the 2015-16 season. Frölunda proves their European dominance at the Champions Hockey League tournament where they have made the championship in all three editions – finishing once as a runner-up and winning the title twice.

Like many European clubs, Frölunda is well known for their professional team but they also have an extensive development system. The hockey club oversees their renowned Swedish Hockey League club, as well as academies for their under-20, 18 and 16 year old elite players. Unlike the NHL and Russia’s KHL, many European clubs work to develop elite-level players from a young age and make an effort to keep them in their system.

With a campus, terrific coaching staff and veteran leadership from players such as Joel Lundqvist, prospects have a lot of learning opportunities with the club.

Current NHL players

As we speak, there are at least 19 players in the NHL and several in the AHL who spent some development time with Frölunda in a non-lockout year (i.e. Duchene, Janmark). Some of these players include Norris and Vezina award winning players Erik Karlsson and Henrik Lundqvist.
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The number of players being drafted directly out of Frölunda has sky-rocketed since the turn of the century. Between 1984 and 1999 there were 16 players that heard their names called in the entry draft – including Daniel Alfredsson. Since 2000 however, there have been 60 players. 19 of those since 2013 alone. This number does not even include players like Artturi Lehkonen who were with another team in their draft year and made the move to Frölunda prior to coming overseas to North America.

This makes it clear that National Hockey League scouts have their eyes in Sweden – especially on this particular team. And judging from the success of players who have come through this system into the NHL – it is for good reason.

Of course who can forget the 17-year old superstar Rasmus Dahlin? Growing up with the club and playing for their top team at the age of 16, Dahlin is projected to go 1st or 2nd overall at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Frölunda or Laval?

This is one of the greater debates that Habs fans have been having when it comes to european prospects. Do we want them developing in OUR system whether it be the AHL, ECHL, Canadian Major Junior or college hockey in the United States? Or are these players better off playing at home where they are most comfortable, getting paid and playing against higher competition?

It’s an interesting debate, and unfortunately there hasn’t been much success lately in the Habs farm system. With the exception of maybe Brendan Gallagher, there really isn’t anybody on the roster who has graduated from the AHL under this coaching staff whether it be the Hamilton Bulldogs or St. John’s IceCaps. With the move to Laval, many Habs fans were hoping that the Rocket would have a fresh start. However, much of the staff will come along with the team including head coach Sylvain Lefebvre.

Last season, the Canadiens had one rookie that played in a full-time roster spot. Artturi Lehkonen. He stayed in Europe until he was able to earn a spot on the team and hasn’t played one game in the farm system.

The obvious answer is to take this debate on a case-by-case basis depending on the player. As previously mentioned, european professional hockey is attractive to many players because of the pay, because of the higher quality of competition. For example, when Auston Matthews skipped the WHL and NCAA in his draft year for professional hockey in Switzerland – he was earning approximately $400,000, playing against grown men (many of whom have played in the NHL) and was learning under a former-NHL coach at the time.

For many fans however, it is attractive to them to see prospects develop in their teams’ system. It looks good on the organization when their farm teams can pump out full-time roster players. Also, with the time difference and media coverage it is easier to follow along with their progressions.

However, in the end we probably just want whatever will work out for the best in the long run.

Lehkonen will almost certainly secure a full-time roster spot in Montreal for the upcoming 2017-18 season.

Ikonen was drafted in the 2017 CHL Import Draft by the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). However, the 18-year old is still under a junior contract with Frölunda and his agent has expressed via Twitter no interest in reporting to Hamilton.

 

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2 Responses to Elite Frölunda system develops Lehkonen, Ikonen

  1. Stay in Sweden. Development in Mtl system is horrible.

    habbernack July 11, 2017 at 8:48 am Reply
  2. Agree with habbernack. It’s shocking that Montreal retains Lefebvre as coach of their AHL team when he has managed to squeak into the playoffs once in six years. Lehkonen developed well in Europe. Ikonen should stay as far away from the Therrien-clone Lefebvre as he can; he would have him skating on the 4th line to develop “his character”.

    jd July 12, 2017 at 2:01 am Reply

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