The hype surrounding Artturi Lehkonen has reached an all-time high. Not only is he being penciled in by pundits and fans alike as a possible solution to Montreal’s lack of depth on the wings, but his former teammates and coach also seem to agree that he has all the right tools to make an impact in the NHL.
At both Frölunda practices this week, Lehkonen stayed after on the ice to practise his shot and some stick skills. It goes to show that his commitment to excellence is unwavering. At Monday’s practice he got to play with Hampus Lindholm and Erik Karlsson as defenders, and let me tell you he looked fantastic surrounded by such talent. He kept up with the play, and at one point he was on the blue line waiting for a pass that Karlsson wanted him to receive. When Robin Figren sent the puck to Lindholm instead, Karlsson made sure to speak to Lehkonen and give him a few words of encouragement. All this to say that elite NHLers also recognize his talent level.
The intensity has been great during Frölunda’s recent practice sessions. With NHL players present, some young players were a bit starstruck, however Lehkonen has looked good surrounded by top NHL players such as Karlsson, Lindholm, Henrik Lundqvist, and Loui Eriksson. He never looked out of place, and instead took it as an opportunity to step up his game.
I spoke to a few players regarding their thoughts on Lehkonen, to get an idea of how they perceive the talented Finnish forward. One player that was mentioned quite often during these conversations was Mattias Janmark, who departed from Frölunda last season and made the Dallas Stars out of camp.
“I think he is an amazing hockey player, and I have the feeling that he has every chance possible to make the team in Montreal.” said Detroit Red Wings prospect Christoffer Ehn. “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.”
As for his current linemate Figren, he acknowledged the steps Lehkonen has taken recently, and the great pace of his development with Frölunda. “Last year, Artturi wasn’t ready when Janmark left. Without knowing Montreal's roster from top to bottom, I can’t say he should make the team, but I think the stats speak for themselves after last season.” As for losing a talented teammate, he understands it’s the best course of action for Lehkonen. “If I am to lose a linemate, that’s great for him. That’s how we want to work within the team, we want to advance players forward and to be part of that progress. We have to be happy for a player leaving for a bright future.”
Lukas Vejdemo, a fellow Montreal prospect, was impressed with Lehkonen’s play after Djurgården had been knocked out of the playoff by the red-hot Finn: “He flew around the ice all throughout the quarterfinals, and in my honest opinion he was the best player on Frölunda’s roster. He is smart, sly like a fox, always in position, and he is an insanely good finisher.”
I also got the chance to speak with Frölunda’s head coach Roger Rönnberg about his star player. He was candid about the situation, giving long and interesting answers regarding the setting that may arise in Sweden if Lehkonen earns a spot on the Habs’ roster.
Patrik: Montreal has Artturi Lehkonen firmly in their sights, there are two open left wing positions on the team, and more or less no cap space. How does a coach go about preparing a team for the upcoming season when there is a chance that an important player like Lehkonen might leave, especially as late as this might be in the SHL’s season?
Roger Rönnberg: We have known this for a long time, and it was part of the negotiations when he signed his new contract with Frölunda. These are the terms that are to be followed; it's Montreal or Frölunda. That is the way we want to work, we want to be the team that gets you as close to the NHL as possible without being in North America, so it follows our philosophy and plan.
We don’t see it as we might lose someone, we see it as we have the chance to succeed with someone. To help a player reach their individual goals and their development plan, to succeed with the goals we set up when Artturi signed with us two years ago.
P: As you say he has really blossomed under your tutelage, and taking great strides forward in many areas, what do you think he has developed most under his time here with Frölunda?
RR: His physique, without a doubt. We knew when he arrived here that he is a very competent ice hockey player who wasn’t there physically yet. Now he is there. He is approaching the level he needs to play against bigger and bigger players. He looks incredibly strong out there.
P: I don’t know how much you follow Montreal, but how do you see his chances on making the team out of camp?
RR: I don’t follow the team that closely, I see it more from the perspective of where Artturi is physically and mentally as a player, and I can compare him with Mattias Janmark, who made the team out of camp for the Dallas Stars last season. I see that Artturi is starting to have that strength to win the battles on the ice to make it in the NHL. He is approaching the NHL with great strides.
Lehkonen confirmed that he will leave for Montreal on the 12th of September, as to attend Montreal’s rookie training camp and the rookie tournament in London.