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Canadiens 2014 Top 25 Under 25: #9 Artturi Lehkonen

Artturi Lehkonen scores the #9 spot on the list of top players in the Canadiens system under the age of 25.

Bruce Bennett

"I like to shoot a lot, and I think goal-scoring is kind of my thing," proclaimed the deep-voiced Artturi Lehkonen upon being drafted 55th overall in 2013 by the Montreal Canadiens.

He had just won the rookie-of-the-year award in Finland’s SM-Liiga, scoring 14 goals and adding 16 assists in 45 games to finish second in points on his team, KalPa.  Lehkonen also had played very well in games against his international peers, getting four points in six games at the 2013 World Junior Championship before piling up nine points in seven games for Finland’s under-18 team, which went on to win the bronze medal at that tournament.

Lehkonen followed up that remarkable season by finishing first on KalPa in points in the 2013-’14 season, getting 20 points in 33 games.  The team finished last in the top professional Finnish league this year (rebranded simply ‘Liiga’ at the beginning of the season).  He was able to enjoy much greater team success as a member of Finland’s under-20 team at the 2014 World Junior Championship where he was one of the most utilized players, along with ninteen-year-old linemates Teuvo Teräväinen and Saku Mäenalanen, for a squad that won the gold medal at the annual holiday event.

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Votes

Of the 16 panelists who placed ballots, 12 slotted Lehkonen among their top-10 players, while one panelist was brazen enough to place the Finnish winger in his top five.

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Strengths

Photo credit: Andreas Hillegren

Artturi Lehkonen’s number one strength is his exceptional ability to get the puck into the opposition net, whether by his own accord or by setting up a teammate with a great pass to let him finish the play.

He has been a point-per-game player at many of the levels he has competed, while scoring at a two-points-every-three-games clip at both the World Juniors and while playing in Finland’s relatively lower-scoring top league (4.94 goals per Liiga game in 2013-’14 versus the 5.34 in the NHL last year), where he managed to be one of the best point-producers on his team, even maintaining that scoring rate last season as a sophomore when that team was terrible.  KalPa averaged 1.68 goals per game last season (no other team averaged less than 2.23) giving up close to three, acquiring a measly 51 of a possible 180 points under a 3-point-game system.

His main method for scoring goals is by making use of his quick shot.  While maybe not as impressive as that possessed by Max Pacioretty or the (criminally underutilized) wrist shot of Alex Galchenyuk, Lehkonen has a very effective release that sees him score plenty of goals off the rush.  He said he likes to shoot, and his stats back him up on that claim: he recorded 192 shots in 45 games with KalPa in 2012-’13, and 137 shots in 33 games last season, for an average of more than four shots per game over his last two professional campaigns.

If his shot doesn’t initially find the back of the net, he employs another effective strategy: become Brendan Gallagher.  Once established in the offensive zone, Lehkonen takes up residence somewhere in the ‘home plate’ scoring area and looks for an opportunity to fire a loose puck or rebound home, usually posted up a few feet to the side of the net.  And like Gallagher, he’s not afraid of mixing it up with defenders in the corners or near the crease, although his strength is in finding an unoccupied hole in the defensive coverage rather than attempting to punch one in it.

As noted above, he is just as adept at setting up goal-scorers as he is at finishing a play himself as he is always aware of the position of his linemates and is usually in a quality position to get them the puck.  One of the things you’ll notice about his offensive stats is that he has a virtually one-to-one ratio comparing goals to assists.  When paired with players of similar offensive acumen, the results could be spectacular, as evidenced by the dynamism of the trio of himself, Mäenalanen, and Teräväinen at the World Junior Championship.

Yet More Strengths

Goal-scoring isn’t Artturi Lehkonen’s only thing.  He is exceedingly proficient on the defensive side of the puck.

He was relied upon to be one of the main defensive forwards for Finland at the 2014 WJC, with Andrew Berkshire qualifying him as "flat out dominant on the penalty kill."  That penalty killing prowess can be seen in the video below, with Lehkonen’s man-disadvantage positioning on display several times during the recap of the gold medal game (Lehkonen wears #28 for Finland).

You’ll also find very few seasons where Lehkonen has suffered a negative even-strength goal differential, and you won’t find any competitive level where he has not been at least even in terms of career plus/minus.  Even last season, with an atrocious KalPa club, he managed a plus/minus of -2, which was fifth on the team for players playing at least 25 games, while nine teammates saw minuses in the double digits.

It’s prudent to remember just how young Lehkonen is when looking at his abilities.  He just turned nineteen in July and is still one of the youngest members to be a part of the Canadiens' organization.  We should see him at the 2015 WJC, where Finland will be in Group A playing in Montreal looking to defend their gold.  He has lots of time to further improve both his game and himself as a professional hockey player.

Weaknesses

One of those areas in need of improvement is body mass.  Lehkonen is a very slight player, weighing in at an unremarkable 161 pounds on his 5’11" frame, according to the numbers announced at this summer’s development camp.  He has been involved in a unique strength-building programme at the Turku branch of Sports Science Lab that focuses on increasing core strength via balance and resistance exercises.

Of greater concern is his recent spate of health issues.  He was unable to participate in development camp activities this summer because of a virus.  Although that likely won’t be a recurring illness, it did prevent him from making an impression that could advance his professional career.  He suffered two concussions in the 2012-2013 season, and while he wasn’t forced to miss a considerable amount of time from either, he will be more susceptible to being concussed moving forward.  He also sustained an ankle injury at the beginning of the 2014 World Junior Championship that prevented him from playing the final 23 games of the season that remained for KalPa after the WJC.

Projection

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It would be a tragedy if health concerns prevented Artturi Lehkonen from reaching his full potential, as his ceiling is currently that of a top-line winger.

He has the offensive drive and ability to play with the best players, and excels when given the opportunity to do so.  That offence is not offset by being defensively liable as he has shown he is just as capable of keeping the red light behind his own net off as he is of consistently bringing the home fans to their feet in the offensive zone.

He can kill penalties with good stick- and body-positioning, with no hesitation to get in the shooting lane.  His threat of going the other way on a short-handed break will force the powerplay personnel to be aware of his presence on the ice and, if he does get that break opportunity, he has the skill to finish off that play with regularity.

His accurate shot and work ethic around the goal will serve him well on the powerplay, especially one in Montreal which should see a high volume of shots from the point.  Create a powerplay unit of Subban/Nygren and Beaulieu/Markov with Lehkonen and Gallagher down low, complemented with a playmaking centre to set them all up, and you turn the offensive zone into a pinball machine.

Artturi Lehkonen won’t just play all situations; he will dominate them.  That’s why I believe that, of the players under the age of twenty-five in the Montreal Canadiens system, he is one of the absolute best.