On Saturday afternoon in Sweden (1500 CET/9:00 a.m. Eastern), the puck will drop for the first SHL semi-final between Frölunda and Luleå. Habs prospect Artturi Lehkonen, who plays for Frölunda, leads all remaining players in playoff scoring with five goals and three assists. The top goal scorer, with six goals, is Luleå's Lukas Wallmark.
Last year, Lehkonen stood out in the playoffs, finishing as Frölunda's second leading scorer after Mattias Janmark, who now plays for the Dallas Stars. While it was predictable that Lehkonen could have a good run in the playoffs, it wasn't expected to go this well. Last year he had six points in 13 games. This year he has surpassed that in only five games.
"Lehkonen flew around all through the quarter finals, and was in my honest opinion the best player for Frölunda. He is smart, sly (like a fox) and always in the right position, and he is an insanely good finisher," said fellow Canadiens prospect Lukas Vejdemo, who played Lehkonen and Frölunda in the previous round.
Lehkonen said his success is all down to "a few lucky bounces" after the team's final practice. "I expected us to win the series, but not that I would have as many points. Now all I do is focus on the next series lined up. It is always nice to have it go well on a personal level, but right now it's all about getting another eight wins," he said.
Luleå is a physical team. They outsmarted Färjestad in the quarterfinal, and forced them into a more physical style of play.
"Djurgården tried to play that way against us and we made them pay," said Lehkonen. "We played Luleå last year in the playoffs, we won that one. Obviously it's a new series, but our confidence is high."
In the series with Djurgården, Lehkonen impressed not only with his scoring, but also with his overall physical play, and there really seem to be another level to his game. He loves the playoffs, he says.
"When the playoffs start you try to be a bit more physical, and make the guys stop and start over again. That way the if the series will be long, it will be tough and draining for the opponent as well."
I don't want to make a prediction for this series. Luleå impressed a lot in their quarterfinal, but Frolunda has gotten most of their injured players back. I'd say 4-3 Frölunda in the series, but it's more of a pick from the heart. I do recommend for readers to try and catch it if you can. It will be a good introduction to to both Swedish hockey, and Lehkonen in particular.
When asked if he had any goals left in him, Lehkonen fired a smile and a laugh: "I have a few more saved up!"