"My strength is my offensive game, I like to shoot a lot," claimed Artturi Lehkonen during an interview with EOTP, and this is most likely the reason for his fall in the Top 25 Under 25 this year.
His offensive game was not on display very much during his first season in Frölunda. Partly because the game itself is different than in his native Finland, but also due to the adjustments needed on the ice, and a bout with mononucleosis as well.
Lehkonen played 90 games last season, and his production seemed to come in bursts rather than spread out evenly over the season. He scored his first hat trick last season against Skellefteå, and then another in the playoffs against eventual champions Växjö. Lehkonen said with a smile: "When I scored the second and third goal, I just closed my eyes and took the shot! Previously I have had problems relaxing at the right moment."
His lack of consistency is an issue that plagues almost every hockey player, except maybe Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, but it also reflected the lack of preseason training, and a dip in confidence. Most of these 90 games were played against men, sometimes twice his age and size, something Lehkonen has had to deal with since he started playing in Finland's Liiga at the age of 16.
Martin Lapointe said during development camp, "I spent 10 days in Frölunda, and I saw Artturi play there. It’s great to see him healthy. A lot of people haven’t seen him play and perform. He wasn’t lucky the last few years. It was difficult for him to get going again after coming down with mono. But, he had a great finish to the year".
If Lehkonen can build on that finish, chances are he will climb higher on this list next year.
The votes were scattered, the average coming out at 12.7 barely beating out Martin Reway, who was just below him in the 13th spot;
With a standard deviation of 3.6, the noticeable outliers were Ian at 7, and Shannon at 19. Five panelists placed him in the top 10, and everyone ranked him in the top 20.
Top 25 Under 25 History
|2013 #13||2014 #9|
Through the years the panel has been relatively high on Lehkonen, starting with a solid ranking of #13 following the draft, and a good year in Finland moved him up a few more spots to number 9 last year.
After a season filled with adversity, illness and new surroundings on and off the ice, he dropped a little bit. While his production went down last year, his general play actually improved because of the fact that his role changed, having to take more defensive responsibilities when playing on Frölunda's top line.
Lehkonen's strength has always been his shot, a deadly combination of speed and accuracy when he gets the chance, as you can see in the video below.
His elite hockey sense is something that was on display last year, taking the safety-first approach as he learned the ins and outs of playing in a new country. He took on the responsibility of covering for his linemates, rather than rushing headlong into the offensive zone.
He is also being used in all kinds of situations; the power play, end-of-game situations - both in the offensive and defensive zone - and a few times the penalty kill, a responsibility he enjoys, and that speaks volumes to the trust his coach has for his hockey IQ.
He is also a very good skater, using edge work to get around defenders, however he could improve upon his explosiveness, in order to really be able to speed to his advantage. This is something he is aware of, and is currently working on.
One thing that is also a strength is his determination to succeed, in this case playing against men twice his age, and most importantly he moved to another country in order for to prepare himself for the next step, which is obviously NHL.
He has a diminutive frame; Frölunda has him listed at 5’11". While this has traditionally been a problem in the NHL, we can look no further than the team that knocked out the Canadiens in the playoffs last season. Tampa Bay had success with the triplets; Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, who are all listed as 6' and under .
Finally, with a healthy preseason (the last two were interrupted because of concussion and mononucleosis) he seems to be in better shape, and this should put most minds at ease.
Listed at 174 lbs by the Habs, but 163 lbs by Frölunda, Lehkonen could probably add more to his frame. Working with the best physio team in Sweden at the combined Frölunda and IFK Göteborg rehab clinic, he's definitely in the right place to do it over time, and lessen the risk for injuries.
According to the preseason lineup, Frölunda will keep their first line together from last year. It will definitely benefit all three of them, Lehkonen, Mattias Janmark, and Robin Figren, to have time to build up more chemistry.
The most interesting thing to keep an eye on is whether or not Janmark will take his defensive responsibilities more seriously this year, in order to develop further as a centre. If so, that would open up Lehkonen for a more offensive role. Thereby getting an opportunity to get back to the game he is famous for; his shot, his vision and his offensive output. The same could be said for the power play; at the end of the season Lehkonen's play was a lot better. Instead of standing next to the goal, he was much more involved in the action.
With his elite shot placement and quick release, he needs to take the next step and increase his production, in order to make the transition across the Atlantic to the AHL/NHL as smooth as possible.
Lehkonen has the potential to be a top-six player, or a top-nine depending on the system; he certainly has the drive and determination to make it to NHL. He is taking a step-by-step approach, and making sure that he doesn’t take a too big of a jump that would result in failure, which points to a mind set on succeeding.
Needless to say, this year is important; he needs to show that last year was a natural regression because of the move to Sweden, and that it wasn't related to his skill set. With Lehkonen's favourite player on the Canadiens being Brendan Gallagher, he could ask for no better role model to look up to; it’s time to adapt and overcome just as Gallagher did.
Get to know Montreal's favourite Finn better in our exclusive Interview from last month.