After three years in the NHL, we’ve witnessed the rollercoaster ride that Artturi Lehkonen has been on. We’ve watched him go from 18 goals during his rookie season, to 12 goals, to 11. But even though his goal-scoring has declined due to really crappy puck luck, Lehkonen hit a career high in points last year with 31. He may not have found the back of the net very often himself, but he sure helped others get the job done.
August 29, 2018: Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #3 Artturi Lehkonen
Lehkonen started his Habs career with an great rookie season and an exceptional playoff run (yes, I said playoff). Unfortunately, he faced the dreaded sophomore slump the following year due to injuries and plain old unlucky play. As the season progressed, he was one of the most dangerous players at even strength and became a high-danger scoring chance generator, but his season ended with just 12 goals. It didn’t shake people too much. Ranked as the third-best player under 25 years old in the organization, there was still faith in the Finn.
October 3, 2018: [Highlight] Artturi Lehkonen scores the first goal of the NHL season
And for good reason! It was Lehkonen who opened up the scoring for the Canadiens when they faced the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018-19 season opener.
December 17, 2018: NHL rescinds Artturi Lehkonen’s embellishment penalty
Who could forget the “embellishment” call on Lehkonen during the matchup against the Ottawa Senators? I’m pretty sure even Sens fans rolled their eyes at this one. Despite Lehkonen’s would-be highlight reel play being called back, the Canadiens came away with a win that night, but nobody... and I mean nobody... was letting this “embellishment” call go. Because it wasn’t, as it was finally agreed on after the league reviewed it and rescinded it from his record.
Lehkonen may have jump-started the season with the season-opening goal, but it took him 17 more games to notch his second of the season. He was, however, racking up the assists while he waited. He’s been dealing with these kinds of ups and downs his whole career and his effort level never drops, which is why you won’t see him benched but instead continuing to give his all on the ice ... even when the snake has latched on.
He’s an incredibly useful player even when not scoring, but it could eventually become hard for him to get consistent time in the top six if he doesn’t find a way to produce. In order to do that, he’s going to have to take a page out of Brendan Gallagher’s book and push the boundaries on how he goes about finding the back of the net. How can he do that? By working on his biggest underused weapon -- his shot.
And he broke that weapon out when he snapped out of his goalless streak, making one of his best plays of the season against the Buffalo Sabres. Two nights later, he displayed the same awareness and timing against the Florida Panthers to notch another goal. Lehkonen has a history of heating up and pulling off some big performances just as playoff time comes around, and this year was no exception.
By the time the season was coming to a close, with a wild-card berth within reach, Lehkonen found his form once more. Up against Tampa Bay, he played his best game of the year. He scored the game-winning goal, set up Max Domi’s insurance goal, and tallied five shots at five-on-five (second only to Gallagher). Putting his goal issues aside, Lehkonen remained a strong player for the Canadiens all season.
This goes to show that, contrary to popular belief, Lehkonen hasn’t forgotten how to score. While he continues to do a whole host of things extremely well, his goal-scoring totals may be dictated by factors out of his control. Like the fact that when a new coaching staff arrived, he almost entirely abandoned the high slot where the majority of his goals came from in his first season and his role dramatically changed from finisher to transition play.
If you’re a fan of Lehkonen, it can be quite frustrating to watch him at times. Whether it’s hitting the post or missing a prime scoring chance, you can’t help but eventually utter the words “Poor Lehky” at least once before the season is over. But, even when he’s having trouble finding the back of the net himself, he almost always has a positive impact when he’s on the ice. The Canadiens controlled the majority of the shots when Lehkonen was on the ice last season, proving that his defensive abilities and ability to create scoring chances add big value.
With Lehkonen’s contract coming to an end, and his production being a bit of an issue, Marc Bergevin’s decision may come down to term. With a two-year term, Bergevin saves money at a time when he’s looking to put together a contending team. However, given Lehkonen’s important role and the possibility that his production just may improve, there could be a case for a much longer deal.
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