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‘His play in the offensive zone was his big asset’: A closer look at Otto Leskinen

We take a closer look at the newest Canadiens defenceman.

Otto Leskinen signed with the Montreal Canadiens as a free agent, leading to many fans wondering what he can bring the organization.

The 22-year-old defender has spent most of his career with KalPa in Liiga and the team’s under-20 program. The Canadiens acquired a puck-moving defenceman in Leskinen.

He can be used in the transition when his smooth skating helps the team to transport the puck up the ice. He was used more for the cycle game in the offensive zone, where he puts his skating to good use and joins in to push towards the net. He will take risks to make the offensive play rather than to play defensively secure.

Leskinen has played the last three seasons in Liiga, Finland’s top division, and he has gotten time in the Champions Hockey League with KalPa.

Habs Eyes on the Prize spoke to Marko Tuomainen, Leskinen’s defensive coach in KalPa about what makes Leskinen an intriguing player.

”Leskinen’s biggest strength is his skating, playmaking and his ability to join the offence as a defenceman,” he said. “He still has to work on his upper body strength and physical game in 1-on-1 situations. That side of the game improved a lot last year as he played against opponents’ top players all the time.”

“His play in the offensive zone was his big asset as he kept finding ways to get the puck to the net through his improved shot and hockey sense,” Tuomainen said.

The defender led all KalPa defenders with 31 (8G+23A) points in 2018-19 season, his breakout year in the Finnish league. However, over half of the points were added on the power play where Leskinen put up 17 points (3+14). He was fourth in scoring on the fourth lowest-scoring team in Liiga this past season.

Looking at the advanced stats from Liiga, Leskinen has a marginally better CF% than the team, while having slightly more offensive zone starts than his team. Both Leskinen and KalPa suffered from terrible puck luck.

Leskinen has been used on the power play as the defender walking the blue line and distributing passes. He prefers to shoot the puck with a well-placed wrist shot rather than a big slap shot. He distributes the passes well but will have to do it with more speed in smaller North American rinks.

He has also been used on the half wall, as in the play below, where he can use his skating to draw a defender in and use his wrist shot to place in the puck into the net. (Leskinen wears number 25)

Much like the addition of Czech players Michal Moravčík and David Sklenička last year, Leskinen is a low risk high reward kind of gamble. Leskinen will, most likely, start the season with Laval Rocket in the AHL, which is a step up in quality from the Finnish top division.