Frölunda opened their season with an exhibition-style event, including a team presentation, a friendly scrimmage, and a skills competition. Artturi Lehkonen was second to last out on the ice, and got a cheer only rivaled by fan-favourites Robert Frigren, and captain Joel Lundqvist. It was obvious that Lehkonen’s team red was the better squad, even if they did lose the scrimmage 2-1.
In the skills competition, he netted two shootout goals on five tries, and his team managed to sneak out an 8-7 win, thanks to the deciding goal by Anaheim’s Jacob Larsson.
I had the chance to speak with both Artturi Lehkonen and Coach Rönnberg after the exhibition event.
Patrik: Congratulations, Artturi! We better keep to traditions right? Two goals...
Artturi Lehkonen: .... Yeah, thanks! We definitely have to keep that tradition going. It was great to be on ice again, to be part of this. I have been here a week [in Gothenburg], it feels good to be back.
P: About the Canadiens development camp, there were some questions among fans and media in Montreal about the reason for you missing it, I tweeted out what I know and that you needed vacation. How was it, and what have you done?
AL: I recharged the batteries and tried to get ready for the new season. I went home to Finland and mum’s food. I first spent a week in Greece, then I stayed in Finland the rest of the time.
P: Did you pick up anything about the World Cup squad in Finland?
AL: They have a great team, it will be great fun to follow that tournament, and hopefully Finland will do great. If I am here in Gothenburg I will be in the stands for that game, I have some good friends that will play on that team, so if I get a chance to watch a game you be sure I will, but I might not be around
P: How has summer training been? You look a bit bigger than last time, and you are filling out with some muscles.
AL: I have gained a few kilos, not all of it mum’s food, summer training has been really good to me and I think I have gained enough kilos for now. I am happy I gained them. It's a really important thing to me to gain that weight and show that I am ready for the NHL. I need to get both my strength and conditioning to where it should be so that I can make an impact in camp and make the roster in Montreal.
P: What is your match weight now?
AL: 83.5-84 kilos, it depends on the day but it’s always around there.
P: Have you had any conversations with the Canadiens in regards to training during the summer?
AL: Not that much, not that much at all. I spoke with Christer Rockström about what I needed to do in order to succeed in Montreal. What they think I need to improve up on. Obviously I am not the biggest guy so I need to gain weight and muscle, I need to become stronger overall in my game.
P: You have probably followed the transactions during the summer, its hard not to. I remember you talking after Izvestia [Channel One Cup] in Russia, having seen Radulov in action up close, and now you have the chance to become line mates.
AL: He is an awesome player. I have seen him play live once, and let me tell you, he was just a monster out there. He is an amazing player, I mean it’s fun to watch how he plays and how he dominates the play over all. Its awesome, just awesome.
P: We have just like last year a Top 25 Under 25 list, where do you think you are ranked?
AL: Haha! it’s you guys writing that, I know what I need to do.
P: How difficult is it, I mean 20 years ago you might have been flying under the radar a bit when you arrive at camp. Now there is so much media, including us, that drives expectations and hype players. Is that something that concerns you, something that you think about?
AL: No not really, I have my own expectations that are most important, and I know what I need to do to make them happen. I know everyone's talking about me and what they do expect and hope. But again, I have my own goals and I need to keep my eyes on that and keep pushing for that to happen. I can’t really take part in someone else's decision and care what he thinks about me, I have to do my own stuff and make it as well as I can.
P: And your goal is NHL this season?
AL: Oh yes definitely, I am going to the camp and I will fight for a spot. Otherwise I wouldn’t go there, I wouldn’t want to go there. It is the world's greatest league and it will be a good challenge for me.
I also got the chance to speak with Coach Rönnberg after the interview with Lehkonen. He was candid about the situation, giving long and interesting answers regarding the situation that might arise in Sweden if Lehkonen gets a spot on the roster in Montreal.
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 is it to coach and to prepare a team for the upcoming season when there is a chance that an important player like Artturi Lehkonen might leave, especially as late as this might be?
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 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 it that close, 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 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.
Whether or not Lehkonen can make the Canadiens out of camp this year should be something to really follow. Based on what he and his coach have said, it seems a likely conclusion.