With all the good that’s going on in the Montreal Canadiens organization right now, I wanted to take a minute to revisit our good friend Arturri Lehkonen.
Recently my distinguished colleague Matt Drake featured Lehkonen in his Bottom Six Minutes as to why he didn't want to see “our favourite Finn” traded. So I wanted to contribute to that by talking about the year he’s having statistically.
Normally, despite what some people may think, my articles are not “all numbers”. But this one is definitely going to be all numbers. So, if it offendeth thee, avert thine eyes. I wouldn’t want you to accidentally learn something.
Throughout the entirety of the 2020-21 season at five-on-five (all stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick) Lehkonen had the fifth-best shot attempts against per 60, the sixth-best goals against per 60, and the third-best expected goals against per 60. These are all interesting stats but something keeps nagging at me. That same year had the second-least defensive zone starts per 60 minutes of play. So where does he get this reputation as a defensively responsible forward when he’s not deployed in the most defensive roles?
Most would say due to his prowess on the penalty kill. Last year he had the second-most time on the PK as a forward trailing only Phillip Danault. In that time he had the third-best expected goals against per 60 but the third-worst goals against per 60 (out of the seven players that had over 40 minutes of PK time)
Needless to say that after examining last year a little bit more closely, the stellar reputation that Lehkonen has garnered does not seem as well earned as I had initially thought.
So let’s fast forward to this year. Specifically, since Martin St. Louis has taken over. Despite it being a small sample size it will be interesting to see how he’s deployed, and fared in that deployment, under a completely different type of coach.
Since February 10, at five-on-five Lehkonen has the fifth-most defensive zone faceoffs per 60 (out of the 14 players who’ve played over 30 minutes at full strength). He has the fifth-worst expected goals against per 60 and the seventh-best goals against per 60. This is an interesting inverse from last year where he routinely underperformed the expected goals against. With such a small sample size since February 10, I’m not sure a lot can be gleaned from that insight other than it’s a simple curiosity. But one thing is clear; starting that much in the defensive zone and not being completely below water for expected goals against is decent.
Finally, we wouldn’t be doing this justice if we didn’t look at Lehkonen’s penalty kill since St. Louis took over. Zero goals against. You read that right. Zero. Even after the barn-burner against the Jets, still zero. As in the greatest actor to grace broadway (Zero Mostel).
After going through all of these numbers I reach one, uncomfortable, conclusion. Lehkonen might be a tad overrated. But before you stop reading and call me a bum in the comments, hear me out.
He’s currently signed for 2.3 million and will be an RFA this summer. He has tons of NHL experience for his age and has acquitted himself well under almost every circumstance. He’s an excellent hockey player and I only call him overrated because we as a fan base seem so desperate for good news we’re acting like he’s Bob Gainey.
So, I say keep him! I don’t think that he breaks the bank next year and he’s an incredible leader for this team that does everything asked of him — and more — to win. To me, that’s worth a heckuva lot more than a late first-round pick.