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2019 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #8 Artturi Lehkonen

The Finnish winger has had three very different seasons so far in the NHL. Can he put it all together in his fourth?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

“I don’t think he quite has Collberg’s wrist shot, which is a thing of beauty. I think Lehkonen might be better at everything else though, but is more fragile.”

“Lehkonen seems like very high risk. The size, the injury history, the Finnish element, and the fact that he looked completely underwhelmed by being drafted to Montreal.”

“Lekhonen is intriguing though. A good kind of pick at 55.”

The enthusiasm was rather tempered back in 2013 when Artturi Lehkonen’s name was announced at the NHL draft. Fast forward to 2019, and Lehkonen is an NHL regular, preparing for his fourth season with the bleu, blanc, et rouge.

Birthplace: Piikkio, Finland
Date of birth: July 4, 1995
Drafted: 2013 (55th overall)
Shoots: Left
Position: Left Wing
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 177 lbs.
Team: Montreal Canadiens (NHL)

After capturing Montreal’s attention with an 18-goal rookie campaign, the Finnish winger found the going tougher in his sophomore season. Yet despite initially being cast as a goal-scorer, Lehkonen showed defensive responsibility on a team that was sorely lacking in that element from its key forwards. As a result, the product of KalPa and Frölunda remained a useful part of Claude Julien’s lineup despite not scoring his third goal of the season until February 4.

EliteProspects

With the pendulum now swinging in the other direction and people questioning his offensive capabilities, he showed yet another facet of his game in 2018-19, turning into a playmaker and transition driver for the first time in his NHL career. As Lehkonen exits T25U25 eligibility, it’s clear that while he’s definitely a more finished product than raw material, the Finn has yet to hit his peak.

Voting

The voting for Lehkonen revealed two distinct camps. The first placed the Finnish forward in the top five amidst other NHL regulars, likely focusing on his established game. The second had him between eighth and 12th, likely focusing on his ceiling.

Matt: Frankly, I’m surprised others don’t value Lehkonen as highly as I do, but I understand their plight. Although he did manage a career high in points, he put up the lowest goal total of his three seasons with only 11. The thing is, that doesn’t tell the story of how good he actually was. He was rather snake-bitten offensively; he put more rubber toward the net than he ever has, but it just didn’t go his way, with a career-low 6.3% shooting percentage and a lot of posts.

When you consider how good he is defensively, I think you have to forgive the lacklustre offensive year given his simple bad luck. I think he will turn that around, and I think he is absolutely a top-five guy in this system among those under 25 years of age. The 2019-20 season could be the breakout year we’ve been waiting for from him.

Patrik: I love Artturi Lehkonen. I always have and I always will. However, I think that his flexibility, loyalty, and hockey IQ has actually cost him places in the rankings. The fact that Lehkonen will adjust to be the defensive partner on a line means that the club is trading his goal-scoring ability in order to promote more one-dimensional talents or transition other players into the NHL. This in itself means that he, in some ways, has become more replaceable, since he doesn’t add the scoring that I know he is capable of.

You don’t go from a 30-point producer — with most of those coming as primary points — in the SHL to very little offence in the NHL randomly. It is because of the will of the coach, and one day, suddenly the coach will forget about the offensive upside and what kind of player he has under his nose.

I ranked him lower than most others because I fear that he could be a player that other teams target for a trade, and that the GM/coach combo might have forgotten the player they actually have. His strengths — flexibility and loyalty — have become his weaknesses in one way.

David: I think Jesse Ylönen has a good chance of settling at around the effectiveness level of Artturi Lehkonen, albeit in a more offensive role. He also has the capabilities to beat him on the depth chart due to superior tools (much better skating and handling ability).

I also see Noah Juulsen as having a higher chance of becoming a top-four defenceman than Lehkonen has of establishing himself as a top-six forward.

Lehkonen is 24 and realistically is what he is. He has flashes of a being a better goal-scorer, but he hasn’t consistently displayed the offensive instinct to find goals away from the periphery of the net.

Top 25 Under 25 History

Entering the series at 13th in 2013, Lehkonen jumped to fifth — his highest pre-NHL ranking — by the end of a 2015-16 season that saw him break Daniel Alfredsson’s Frölunda HC record for most points in a single playoff campaign. After being ranked third for his first two NHL seasons, Lehkonen finds himself tumbling to eighth this year despite being a considerably more well-rounded player, a testament to both improvements made by other players and the Montreal Canadiens’ renewed organizational depth when it comes to prospects.

History of #3

Year #3
Year #3
2018 Artturi Lehkonen
2017 Artturi Lehkonen
2016 Mikhail Sergachev
2015 Nathan Beaulieu
2014 Nathan Beaulieu
2013 Max Pacioretty
2012 Alex Galchenyuk
2011 Max Pacioretty
2010 Lars Eller

Strengths

Entering his fourth NHL season, Artturi Lehkonen’s greatest strength has been his versatility — something that has likely saved him from a trip to the press box when the goals weren’t flowing. His defensive credentials are well established and do not require rehashing here. Offensively, it’s easy to look at the 12 and 11 goals that Lehkonen’s scored in the last two years, treat his rookie season as an anomaly, and dismiss the Finn’s ceiling as a third-line checking forward at best. But, while it may be cliché, Lehkonen actually does contribute to the offence in many ways that don’t directly show up on the scoresheet.

As someone who can play first man in or third man high with equal skill, he is instrumental to the success of the Habs’ forecheck — and if last year is any indication, as the forecheck goes, so go the Canadiens. When playing the first-man-in role, Lehkonen’s controlled aggression and hockey sense in the corners forces direct turnovers or rushed plays leading to turnovers at the blue line. When third man high, he operates as a safety valve for the Jonathan Drouins and Max Domis of the squad, while at the same time turning defence into offence by spearheading the transition passing game.

All of these are on display on the goal below. As Paul Byron forces the puck loose, Lehkonen anticipates the action, slows down, and jumps on the puck. Surrounded by three Ottawa Senators and with his back to goal, Lehkonen is still able to find a wide open Phillip Danault streaking into the zone. Danault creates a two-on-one with Byron, who has circled back, resulting in the key go-ahead goal in a game the Habs would win 5-2.

Weaknesses

Lehkonen’s greatest weakness (if you can call it that) is that he isn’t elite. As a result, when he focuses on one role, it comes at the expense of all of the other aspects of his game. A defence-first Lehkonen won’t be able to still score 20 goals like a Patrice Bergeron, and an offence-first Lehkonen won’t be capable of being the security guard on his line. Likewise, because of his versatility, he finds his game style dictated by his circumstances and not his own desires. If the defence-first coaching staff needs a fire put out — someone to put the needs of the team above his own personal statistics — it will be Lehkonen, because they know he can get the job done.

On a lighter note, Lehkonen should also do something in the off-season to remedy the luck deficit that has plagued him these last two years. The goal below is an apt summary of the Finn’s struggle to get on the scoresheet. Despite doing everything right behind the net and putting the puck right through Thomas Greiss, Lehkonen can only watch the puck bounce off the inside of the post and out. Worse (for him), a New York Islander defender manages to swipe the puck off the boards and right into Shea Weber’s wheelhouse, nullifying any potential assist for #62. At least he didn’t get a stick to the face like Andrew Shaw.

Projection

Ultimately, the player Lehkonen is and the player that he can become is largely dependant on his circumstances. If he is consistently tasked to play defensively, then his offensive game will remain secondary. If he is encouraged to take more offensive risks and given the teammates and situations that could help engage that aspect of his game, he could easily surpass the goal-scoring output that he demonstrated in his rookie season.

As such, while Lehkonen’s ceiling — that of a very good but non-elite player — is generally clear by now, what sort of very good player he will become remains a mystery.