At the start of last season, there were doubts about the level of Artturi Lehkonen’s play, but an incredible sophomore season with Frölunda HC put those concerns to bed.
After a regular season that was good by any given standard, he really went on a hot streak in the SHL playoffs, breaking Daniel Alfredsson’s team points record in the process. This was a record set in the NHL lockout year of 2004-05, when Alfredsson was at the peak of his career, which makes the accomplishment even more impressive.
It was the second season in a row that Lehkonen stepped up his game in the post-season. Last year he was second in scoring (behind Mattias Janmark, who joined the Dallas Stars afterward), while this time he led his team in scoring.
When it comes to the regular season, Lehkonen was in the top five with regard to even-strength points per 60 minutes of ice time. Lehkonen had 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) and finished 28th in league scoring, this without a significant amount of power-play points, and a centre — Patrik Carlsson — who finished 71st in scoring with 24 points on the season. While Carlsson is a good centre, not many would call him elite in the SHL. This makes Lehkonen’s record stand out even more.
With Frölunda’s dominating push for the championship, it was Lehkonen who drove the offence. He was given important minutes and he seized them, though still wasn’t granted much time on the man advantage, even when Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Andreas Johnson struggled on the first power-play unit.
Lehkonen also made his debut with the Finnish men’s national team, Leijonat, during the Channel One Cup in December. He played a big part in creating fellow Canadiens draft pick Joonas Nättinen’s first goal in national-team play.
While having been in discussion for the national team for the IIHF World Championship in Russia, he was ultimately left off the final roster with all the NHL players available, and the fact that he had already played a long season of hockey: 88 games in total.
As high as third and no lower than eighth, all 19 ballots suggest that Lehkonen is one of the top players in the organization. There is a clear separation between Lehkonen (with an average rank of 5.5) and sixth-place finisher Nikita Scherbak (7.2) in the voting, giving the Finn a clear top-five position.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Lehkonen made his debut at #13 in 2013, selected in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft after a strong Liiga season with KalPa, in which he was named Rookie of the Year. He climbed to ninth in 2014 after being part of Finland’s gold-medal-winning World Junior Championship squad, and a good showing in Liiga yet again.
A struggle to adjust to a better league after a couple of injuries and mononucleosis saw him fall to #12 in last year’s vote. This year, however, he moves straight up into the top five without ever playing a regular-season game in North America; the first European prospect to achieve that in the history in the Top 25 Under 25.
Goals are his main commodity, and that is what Lehkonen has brought Frölunda, most of them at five-on-five. Lehkonen is a goal-scorer first and foremost.
Under Roger Rönnberg’s tutelage, he has developed into a good all-around forward that forechecks deep in his zone and has a great understanding of the game. Rönnberg himself says the one thing that Lehkonen has improved upon in Frölunda is his physique, heading to Montreal for training camp in the best shape of his life.
His shot is excellent, and he also has an elite hockey sense that gives him the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time. While a direct comparison isn’t perfect, the fact that two other hyped players from Finland — Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujärvi — had very similar production in their draft years as Lehkonen had.
Even in his breakout season, he put up just as many assists as he did goals, and that has been a trademark of his game throughout the years. His awareness allows him to keep track of his teammates, and he often makes the right decision on when to pass and when to shoot, not appearing to favour one choice over the other.
His elite hockey sense is something that coach Rönnberg mentioned as one of Lehkonen’s greatest strengths, and that belief was evident last season when Rönnberg used Lehkonen in every situation possible; a little bit of power-play time, penalty-killing duties, end of game situations (both with a man advantage and when defending a lead), and not selecting him for the easy zone starts.
Lehkonen is a winner. He has won the Rookie of the Year award in Finland, claimed the World Junior Championship with Finland, and last year he won both the Champions Hockey League and Le Mat Trophy (SHL playoffs). Many pundits also thought it was unfair that he did not win the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy as the SHL playoff MVP.
While still being on the smaller size at 5’10”, he has added to his frame and is stated that he is currently at 84 kg after summer training.
He has struggled with his skating, according to his skating coach, where the power he generated wasn’t being used efficiently to propel him forward. He has worked hard to adjust this, and has seen major improvements.
The one thing that could be a blessing in disguise with regard to his career, but maybe not for himself, is that he may never be a top scorer because he plays with a conservative style, even when a more offensive style is possible. He will do what the coach requests and play a responsible game, even when the team could use a more offensive tactic.
Lehkonen has the potential to be a top-six player in the NHL. He also has made his target achievable with a step-by-step approach, moving abroad at an early age to adjust to a new environment. Increasing the level of the competition and also adding to his weight in small, measured bursts has allowed to him gradually develop into a top prospect.
In regards to his entry-level contract, and the clause that will see him return to Sweden if he doesn’t crack the Canadiens roster, Artturi feels he’s in a great position, as he mentioned to beat writer Henrik Lehman.
"It’s a win-win situation for me: if I don't make Montreal, I am coming back to Frölunda."
This means that while he comes to camp in order to make the team, he can be relaxed about it, as he would return to Frölunda and play top-six minutes in arguably one of the best teams outside the NHL and KHL.
To go back to a known environment and a team where he has a coach that does not only believe in him, but also wants to make him succeed both on and off the ice can only be good for Lehkonen’s development.
There is still a big opportunity for him to make the bleu-blanc-rouge, and it is Artturi Lehkonen’s time to shine. He has stepped up his game every season so far, and it is natural to expect him to take the next step this season.