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2016-17 Canadiens Season Review: Artturi Lehkonen’s rookie season was a success

The young Finn impressed fans and coaches alike during his first year

Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers - Game Three Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Artturi Lehkonen’s success was not guaranteed when he stepped on the plane to North America. Not many pundits, fans or even members of the Montreal Canadiens organization knew what the young rookie would become - a player that would cement his place on the team as a key asset.

Sure, the young Finn had set a new franchise scoring record for Frölunda HC in the playoffs, one that belonged to Daniel Alfredsson. But there were still question marks about his size, his ability to adapt to North American rinks, as well as a contract clause which involved a return to Frölunda if he didn’t make the Habs out of training camp.

The question marks were everywhere (except at EOTP), and it took until the last game of the preseason for Habs fans to witness Lehkonen’s lethal wrist shot. It that was so fast that if you blinked you missed it.

Lehkonen proved his worth by not only earning a spot on the Montreal roster, but also by becoming a key secondary contributor, an area where the Habs struggle.

In the end he played 73 games, sitting out nine due to injury. He scored 18 goals and added 10 assists during his rookie season with the Canadiens, although if his teammates could handle his fast passes he could have earned many more assists.

As is tradition, Lehkonen kept his best performance for the playoffs, just like he had in the previous years. He was one of Montreal’s best forwards, and showed absolutely no signs of rookie nerves.

With next to no powerplay time and a plethora of different line mates during the season, it was an great first year of production from the sniper. With the 18 goals and an entry level deal Montreal paid $46,620 for each goal, and $29,970 for each point, a fantastic asset in the modern NHL, which puts an onus on receiving good value from players on entry-level deals.

After a relatively slow start to the year, Lehkonen picked up his game, finishing the season with a 53 CF%, 54.4 xGF%, and 53.8 SCF%.

The choice of letting Lehkonen grow as a hockey player and a person in Frölunda, under one of the best coaches in the world, rather than in AHL with a coach that struggles to get the best out of his young players, seems to have paid dividends for Marc Bergevin. And it could set up a blueprint for European prospects moving forward.

The question is now how Claude Julien will continue to develop Lehkonen, and if his playoff responsibilities showed anything, it could be with an even bigger role within the team.

Both Therrien and Julien used Lehkonen in tough situations, playing with Plekanec in a shut down role. They quickly figured out what many in Finland and Sweden already knew: Lehkonen’s hockey sense is through the roof.

This asset is something his former coach, Roger Rönnberg, pointed out as one of Lehkonen’s main strengths before the season got underway. With the confidence of a successful NHL season behind him, Lehkonen could possibly be used in a more offensive role next season, despite his defensive prowess.

Lehkonen’s strengths align well with the smaller North American rinks. His accurate and quick release is an amazing tool to have when there is even less time to handle the puck. The hockey sense that Lehkonen possesses has already been mentioned, and that will always be there. Another offseason should benefit Lehkonen too, as putting a few more kilos of muscle onto his frame can make him even an even deadlier weapon for the coach to use.

Lehkonen has shown progress in every season so far, and should be ready to take another step forward this upcoming season. He’ll have to battle for the second line spot with a player that had quite a successful year himself - Paul Byron. There has to be some caution of a second year slump but without a doubt Lehkonen will want to prove doubters wrong once again.

If history is an indication, it may not be wise to bet against it.

(all stats and graphics courtesy of Corsica. CF% = Corsi For, xGF% = expected goals for, SCF% = scoring chances for)


Grade Lehkonen’s season

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