Laval Rocket Season Review: Otto Leskinen’s first season in North America showed his potential

The 23-year-old made strides for the Rocket in his debut season.

Otto Leskinen is a player that has been on the Montreal Canadiens radar for a while, starting with Development Camp in 2019 as an invite. After his season ended, he quickly signed a contract with the Montreal Canadiens.

From development and rookie camps, it became clear that Leskinen would have a solid spot in Laval. Originally considered an outsider on a team with a lot of depth, Leskinen earned a top-four spot that he kept most of the year.

Over the season, Leskinen scored two goals and added 20 assists in 52 games with the Rocket. While the offensive contributions don’t stick out, especially in terms of goals, what he brought into the team in terms of puck movement was important.

His biggest asset is his vision with the puck. He excelled in the cross-seam pass to an open teammate. It’s something he seemed to get more comfortable with as the season went on as his confidence grew, especially when carrying the puck.

Plays like the one above are plays that bring out the best qualities in Leskinen’s play.

The other side of Leskinen’s offensive game is his shot. He does have a good one, but seemed hesitant to use it. After he scored his first AHL goal, both he and his coach Joël Bouchard joked that the coach is always trying to get him to shoot more.

He ended up with over a shot per game on the season, including games of six and four shots. He was an option that was used on the second power play unit behind Xavier Ouellet but alongside players like Josh Brook and Evan McEneny, among others.

On the defensive side of the puck, Leskinen’s positioning is strong. On the left side of the Rocket defence, Leskinen was able to play the gaps well, and was often playing top-four minutes at even strength.

The biggest change in Leskinen’s play came in regards to his penalties. For most of the season, he was among the team leaders in penalty minutes. He ended up finishing second on the team, behind Michael Pezzetta. Although he did have one fight, that is not a part of his game meaning the penalties mostly came in the form of minor penalties.

The good news is that he adjusted as the year went on. In his first 24 AHL games before his NHL recall, he had 39 penalty minutes, 17 of which came on one play where he got an instigator penalty, fighting major, and a 10 minute misconduct for coming to Alex Belzile’s aid after he was boarded by Toronto’s Garrett Wilson.

In the 28 games after his NHL recall, he was called for only 18 penalty minutes. The adjustment shows that he learned on the fly what he could and couldn’t get away with and that he also adjusted to the speed defensively.

Leskinen also exceeded all expectations for his season when he made his NHL debut. Not many people expected him to make that jump this season, but with injuries hitting both the NHL and AHL levels, he got the call and played five games with the Canadiens in December.

His NHL trial didn’t stand out much. He played just over 10 minutes a game on average, and his most common partner was Cale Fleury, so minimal responsibilities on the third pairing. He did also play sparingly with Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, which got him acclimated to the NHL. All of his ice time came at even strength.

He was on the ice for two goals for and two goals against with the Canadiens, but his possession numbers were not as even. When he was on the ice, Montreal had around 43% of shot attempts at even strength. Only Gustav Olofsson had lower numbers among defenders to play with the team this season.

A concussion in February may have cost him another NHL chance when defencemen throughout the entire organization were struggling with injuries.

While he wasn’t on Montreal’s training camp roster, an NHL appearance and solid AHL play is a good start for the 23-year-old undrafted free agent. The 2020-21 season may need to be a step up, however, as it will be his final year on his entry-level contract.

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