The Montreal Canadiens are a flawed team, there is no doubt about that right now. They have holes in their lineup, and are looking to patch those this off-season.
What they do have in their current arsenal is a 22-year-old Finnish winger who has quietly become one of their best multi-purpose tools on the ice. Artturi Lehkonen has played fewer than 200 NHL games, but he plays like a veteran who has spent his entire career in the professional ranks. His offensive numbers are still a work in progress, but he’s doing the right things on the ice for the Canadiens, and he’s only going to get better.
At five-on-five, Lehkonen is a high-danger scoring chance machine, creating 5.43 individual high-danger shot attempts per 60 minutes (iHDCF/60) on the ice. For context, out of 756 NHL players who played at least 100 minutes at full strength, Lehkonen ranks 15th in the league in that metric. That’s not just good, that’s elite-level shot generation.
If we look at the heatmaps and shot charts for Lehkonen, it paints an extremely similar picture.
The shot production in the offensive zone when Lehkonen is on the ice is firmly planted right in the slot in front of the goalie’s net. Those are not only shots that Lehkonen created individually, but also that his teammates get while he is on the ice.
Not only does Lehkonen excel at generating high-danger chances, he also drives play in the right direction overall. He clocks in with the fourth-best Corsi-for percentage (52.4%) while playing against all levels of competition, in a well-defined role in the Canadiens’ top six. Furthering that, Lehkonen manages to make nearly all of his teammates better when they’re on the ice with him.
In fact, with Lehkonen on the ice, only one player really saw their shots against balloon up, and that was Noah Juulsen (who coincidentally was paired with Karl Alzner primarily). That ability to play with nearly the entire roster — and improve their play — makes Lehkonen arguably one of the most important forwards within the organization.
While a fantastic five-on-five player, Lehkonen was also a regular cog in the Canadiens’ penalty kill the past two years. This past season’s four-on-five group was disappointing (to put it mildly), but there are still some positives to highlight in Lehkonen’s special-teams play.
We can break down the heatmaps from this past year to ascertain a few facts that show us the net positive impact Lehkonen had.
Looking at the penalty kill with Lehkonen on the ice, there are two areas where shots are primarily coming from. One is the left side of the slot, and given the defensive personnel on that side of the ice, it’s not at all surprising. The other high-density area for shots is at the blue line, and given the pattern of shots, they appear to be more long-distance, static-location shots from opposing teams. These are far less dangerous chances than those form closer to the net, with a far better chance for goaltenders to pick these shots up as they travel toward the net.
Where Lehkonen does shine is taking away one-time opportunities on his side of the ice, thus forcing the puck back towards the point for lesser chances. Compare this to the chart without Lehkonen, and not only is the coverage in front of the net better with him defending, the one-time area is a wasteland for chances.
It’s not perfect, and it’s a known fact that the Canadiens penalty kill needs a major overhaul in the coming off-season. With new coaches coming into the fold, and Shea Weber hopefully playing the whole season, it will only improve, and that will allow Lehkonen’s strengths to shine in that situations.
While not his most effective area, Lehkonen’s sneaky ability to generate high-danger chances will likely come in handy on the power play as well, assuming that the Canadiens find the type of playmaker to help set up those chances. That is, besides the newly acquired Max Domi who could very well be a major factor in igniting Lehkonen’s offensive fire.
It’s worth noting too that Lehkonen’s offensive game struggled (partly due a back injury), but he remained among the league’s best in generating chances for himself and his teammates. His shot metrics were outstanding, and his expected goal total was in the 96th percentile league-wide.
From his rookie season to last season, one very crucial thing changed: he could not buy a goal (a regular trend with Habs forwards). His shooting percentage plummeted into the bottom quarter of the league overall, and despite generating just as many dangerous shots and chances, he lacked his finishing touch.
He is going to be a key piece in the Canadiens’ offence — and defence — next year whether he is showing on the stats sheet or not. He isn’t always going to post gaudy goal totals like Max Pacioretty, but he is going to be the quietly great forward at both ends of the ice. He creates innumerable chances for the players he’s on the ice with, while also making them better across the board in terms of shot metrics. He’s a deft hand on the penalty kill, and with some regression to the mean for his shooting percentage, he’s going to start filling the net in all situations.
Lehkonen is the Canadiens’ proverbial Swiss Army knife, and he’s due for a killer rebound season in 2018.