At the 2013 NHL Draft, after the Montreal Canadiens had picked Michael McCarron in the first round, then Jacob de la Rose and Zach Fucale in the second, they used their fourth selection on Finnish forward Artturi Lehkonen. When he spoke the media after being chosen, he said to media that “goal-scoring is kind of my thing.”
He had shown that to be true in his draft year, hitting 14 goals as a 17-year-old in the Finnish league, and scoring once every other game in various international competitions throughout the year.
The next season wasn’t quite as productive for the young Finn, only seeing him net seven goals in Liiga. Moving to the SHL in 2014-15, he needed some time to adjust, with a total of 16 points in the regular season, but a more productive effort in the playoffs.
Despite the lack of goals, his work ethic never wavered, and he was able to have a positive impact on his team despite his lack of offensive touch. We were assured by those watching him, especially our own Patrik Bexell, that he was doing all the right things, with a strong defensive game and encouraging work in the offensive zone, even if that wasn’t reflected on the scoresheet.
Things came together in his second year in the SHL. The 2015-16 season was a breakout one for Lehkonen. After starting with a point-per-game performance in Champions Hockey League play, he had one of the best offensive seasons of his career to that point, scoring 16 goals and adding 17 assists. As impressive as that was, he turned things up another notch in the playoffs with 19 points — 11 of them goals — as he led Frölunda to the Le Mat Trophy as SHL champions.
He proved he was ready for his shot at the NHL, and made the Canadiens on his first attempt a few months later. It didn’t take him long to show that his offence was translatable to the world’s top league, getting his first NHL goal in his second game. He finished a solid freshman campaign with 18 goals, and his hottest stretch came right at the end of the season with six goals in the final 10 games.
The Canadiens made the post-season, and as he had the previous year in Sweden, he showed he wasn’t one to be fazed by the uptick in intensity and pressure. His first playoff appearance only lasted six games, but he scored two goal and added two assists to finish second on the team in points.
His second year came with less offence (and no post-season games), as he was only able to reach two-thirds of his rookie production. Yet once again he upped his level at the tail-end of the season; seven goals in the final 15 contests.
Recording the first goal of the 2018-19 season (with his trademark title belt celebration), it seemed like he’d finally enjoy a bit of consistency.
That wasn’t the case. Seventeen games separated the season-opening tally and his second. It has now been 26 games — just about a third of a season — since he scored the game-winner in Florida on December 28.
The good news is he’s still been able to contribute 17 assists to the offence, which is nearly equal to what he had in his first two seasons combined, and he still has 18 games to add to that amount. Through it all, his effort level has never dropped, and he keeps getting his opportunities to force the opposition to play defence. It’s allowing him to maintain a positive goal differential despite all the quality chances missed, and why he’s been in the lineup for all 64 games.
Montreal is clinging to a playoff position even with one their key players in a major slump, as this year they have the depth to still average over three goals per game. Lehkonen has shown the ability to overcome extended periods of low production in his career, finding his top gear right when the most important games arrive.
For a Canadiens team sitting on the wall that separates the playoff teams from those whose seasons will be limited to just 82 games, they need him to add some of his own production to the consistent output of those in the top six.
If Lehkonen can stop overthinking and once again discover the scoring ability he’s displayed throughout his career, Montreal would not only be in great position to survive past the end of the regular campaign, but become a multi-line offensive threat capable of following up an unexpected season performance by pulling off a few more surprises when April rolls around.