According to reports out of Montreal, star prospects Artturi Lehkonen and Mikhail Sergachev will begin the 2016-17 season in a Montreal Canadiens jersey.
Projected to line-up at the second line left wing spot, Lehkonen has continued to impress across the board and go beyond what is expected. In 2015-16, the then-20 year old spent a lot of time on Frölunda’s third line in the SHL in Sweden where he recorded 16 goals and 17 assists in 49 games.
Not only was he producing at an incredible pace given his age and time on ice, but he’s clutch in big games too. Frölunda won the 2015-16 Champions Hockey League over Finland’s Oulun Kärpät and he produced at nearly a point per game pace with 12 points in 13 games. In Sweden’s playoffs, 11 goals and 8 assists in 16 games by Artturi broke Daniel Alfredsson’s Frölunda record for points in the playoffs as they would go on to win the championship.
Playing in a variety of roles, scenarios, line-ups, and against various opponents in the 2016 NHL preseason, Lehkonen tallied 2 goals and an assist in 5 games while adapting to North American style hockey. Lehkonen’s snipe was deadly throughout the preseason but unfortunately he heard the sound of the post plenty of times.
The success of the 21-year old winger hasn’t created much shock for those around him:
“I am very confident that Artturi Lehkonen will take a spot in Montreal’s line-up” –Former Habs Captain Saku Koivu
“He is smart, sly like a fox, always in position, and he is a good finisher” – SHL opponent and fellow Habs prospect Lukas Vejdemo
“I think [Lehkonen] is an amazing hockey player and I have the feeling that he has every chance possible to make the team in Montreal. You can see it in him, and with the playoffs he had. It doesn’t matter to Artturi what day it is, he comes to the rink every day to get better. It is my belief that it will go well for him. You hope on a personal level that we get to keep him, but for him I hope he makes it big” – Frölunda teammate and Red Wings prospect Christoffer Ehn
“We don’t see it as we might lose someone, we see it as we have the chance to succeed with someone” – Frölunda Head Coach Roger Rönnberg
Mikhail Sergachev has truly turned many heads over the course of the 2015-16 Ontario Hockey League season, and since being drafted in June. The 1st round pick (9th overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft will still be here rather than in Windsor on opening night. The length of time in which he will be here is still yet to be known.
The best way to think about this is that Sergachev performed too well in the preseason for the Habs to genuinely be able to justify sending him back to his OHL club. A 9-game tryout in real regular season action will give a better idea at whether he can make a real impact in the NHL this season or if some development and a run at the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires is the better route.
The Canadiens can use Sergachev in nine games without using up a year of his entry level contract. Keep in mind,
this regular season tryout is likely “at least” 9 games. The Habs can still demote him after that but a year will be used up on his entry level contract. Also as noted by Francois Gagnon (RDS), if Sergachev plays 41 or more games – he is eligible for unrestricted free agency as soon as the age of 25. If he plays between 10 and 40, the free agency clock will not yet begin, but Montreal will still lose that year on his entry level contract.
In four preseason games, the Russian-born defenceman tallied 2 assists. It’s expected that he’ll be tested on the third pairing, but we will see what happens.
Like Lehkonen, Sergachev is also the recipient of much praise coming into this season. Sportsnet released the 2016-17 edition of their annual OHL Coaches Poll near the end of September. The 20 Ontario Hockey League clubs had a collective praise for Sergachev. Here’s where Sergachev showed up when coaches were asked to make predictions for the upcoming 2016-17 OHL season:
Mikhail Sergachev led the results for best defenceman by a long shot. Sergachev led the way with 60%, Vande Sompel came in with the next most votes at 15%, Chychrun and Saarijarvi at 10%, and Juolevi with 5%. He only finished behind 6’4″ Lawson Crouse for best bodychecker, and star prospect Dylan Strome for best overall player.
The big (6’3″ / 216lbs) defenceman is coming off of a successful 2015-16 OHL campaign with 57 points in 67 games for the Windsor Spitfires. He participated in the 2016 CHL Top Prospects Game and was named to the OHL All-Rookie and First All-Star teams. To top that off, Sergachev led all defencemen in the OHL in goals and earned the Max Kaminsky Trophy for the Ontario Hockey League’s Most Outstanding Defenceman.
The Habs will begin their 2016-17 season at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo against the Sabres on October 13th at 7:00pm ET.