Otto Leskinen has been linked to the Montreal Canadiens organization for two years, having taken part in the team’s development camp as a tryout in 2018. He went back to Finland before eventually signing with the organization this summer.
He makes his debut in the Top 25 Under 25 in his first official year with the organization. The Canadiens are increasingly looking to Europe for young professionals to bring into the organization. On the defensive side of the ice, they want guys who can skate, and who can play both ends of the ice, and they see that in the 22-year-old blue-liner.
This is the third straight year that Marc Bergevin went to Europe to get a defenceman. Jakub Jerabek was too old to join the Top 25 Under 25 two years ago, but last year Michal Moravčik and David Sklenička joined the list and were ranked 31 and 28, respectively.
Leskinen’s profile is higher than either of the two Czech defencemen, and it shows when you watch him play. It’s hard for a defenceman to stick out in development camp where four-on-four and three-on-three rule the day. But Leskinen really impressed me with how in control he was throughout.
He played confidently and looked ahead of the play. It’s easy to see what makes him successful, even if it won’t be at the NHL level right away. The mix of upside and his professional experience is what moves him up the rankings.
Leskinen has been playing at the professional level for the last four seasons. He played 19 games at the senior level in 2015-16 and then hit the 50-game plateau in each of the last three Liiga seasons.
His scoring increased slightly from his first to second season, but more than doubled last year when he had eight goals and 23 assists for 31 points in 57 games. He also played 12 games for the Finnish national team, but did not make their World Championship roster.
Much of that increase can be attributed to power-play time. In 2017-18, he had only one goal and one assist in 58:25 of time on the man advantage. In 2018-19, he played over 190 minutes on the power play and had three goals and 14 assists. The odd-man situation is definitely a strength of Leskinen’s game, one where he can use his smarts and stick skills with the extra space.
He scored 14 points at even strength, which is not insignificant for a defenceman, either.
The range in votes for Leskinen is not that varied, with me on the high end at 18 and Matt at the low end at 31.
Eight of the 13 panelists had him in the top 25, including the EOTP community at 24. The average was right with the community with a score of 24.1.
I still have my notes from development camp in 2018 (when he was a tryout) where I wrote several times about his shot from the point. My exact words were, “Leskinen has a shot and likes to use it.”
You don’t become a power-play contributor at a professional level without a good shot. As we see, a good shot opens up so many options. On top of his great shot, he can pass the puck and thread needles to find open teammates. He’s a true dual threat.
If you look at the newest additions on defence in the Canadiens organization, there are several common threads that are pretty evident: they are all good skaters, they can handle the puck at least a little bit, and use passing to get themselves out of trouble and get the puck moving in the right direction. Leskinen has those all as strengths.
Leskinen can be seen as one-dimensional. His offensive game is good once he gets into the attacking zone, but his defensive and transition games don’t have the same accolades. He likes to play aggressive without the puck, and that can come with negatives with his gap control. He should still have a positive impact at five-on-five despite his struggles, but it may take him some time to climb up the depth chart in Laval.
Like many young players, his strength will need to improve. Unlike other prospects on this list, his experience playing against men will definitely be a help, but he’ll likely work hard this summer to build his muscle mass.
Left-handed defencemen in the Canadiens organization will always be looked at with one eye on the current situation at the NHL level. The fact is that there is a path for someone to step up if he performs well.
Leskinen is most likely to start the season in the American Hockey League with the Laval Rocket, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he climbs up the depth chart in the AHL very quickly. The left side in Laval is expected to be laden with veterans, so the path may not be easy, but he will be given time to adjust in whichever role he needs, as well.
At development camp, he and Josh Brook looked above and beyond the rest of the pack, which makes sense given their experience. I will be very interested to see what kind of look the Canadiens give him at training camp, and what his progress will be at the AHL level.
His power-play abilities will be a boon to a Rocket team that needed plenty of help in that situation a season ago. Only Xavier Ouellet was able to provide offence consistently, and Leskinen could step right onto the second unit.
The team’s rookie camp in September may give us a better indication of Leskinen’s immediate future, but he does have the outlook of someone who can contribute at the NHL level at some point. I think his upside is a second-pairing defenceman who can be an asset on the man advantage.