Up Close is an All Habs Hockey Magazine feature that gives readers a back-stage pass to athletes, management and sports personalities via our exclusive interviews. This week, one of our staff writers traveled to Gothenburg, Sweden to talk to Montreal Canadiens prospect Artturi Lehkonen for an exclusive interview. Lehkonen, a top forward for the Frolunda Indians of the SHL, was recently named the Montreal Canadiens top prospect by TSN.
|Artturi Lehkonen | Career Overview|
GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN — With the 55th overall pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft, the Montreal Canadiens had the privilege of drafting skilled Finnish left-winger Artturi Lehkonen out of KalPa. The Montreal Canadiens decided to go with skill and all-around sound ability in picking Lehkonen who was one of the higher ranked European players.
Lehkonen made his way through the Finnish junior A, B and C leagues with TPS Turku’s U16, U18 and U20 teams, he always was a steady point producer throughout his junior and minor league days. Lehkonen has represented his country at all levels so far in his career.
Lehknonen has represented Finland at the international-jr level at the U16 level, the WHC as a member of the U17 team, U18 WJC (twice) and at the Hlinka memorial tournament and at the U20 level in two world junior competitions including the 2014 tournament in which he served as the captain of Finland. In all competitions internationally Lehkonen’s production at the international level has always been steady. He has always been one of the top young players for his nation throughout his U16 to U20 days.
Lehkonen started his professional career by playing with TPS Turku during the 2011-12 season for 18 games where he ended up scoring two goals and adding two assists for four points and eight penalty minutes in his SM-Liiga debut.
The following season Lehkonen had moved to KalPa, the move seemed to work out quite well for him. He was leading his team in points through the first month of the season (seven games) with three goals and five assists. Lehkonen earned himself a spot on the teams top line, where he ended up with 19 goals and 38 points in 52 games in all competitions. Not a bad season for a true first year professional playing against men.
In Lehkonen’s second full professional season for KalPa he had 21 points in 39 games in all competitions, Including struggling outside of the SM-Liiga where he only had one point in six games.
In March of 2014, Lehkonen signed a two-year deal with the Frolunda Indians of the SHL (Swedish Hockey League). In Lehkonen’s first campaign in Sweden, he registered eight goals and eight assists in 47 games while only having 12 penalty minutes and he was plus-18.
His development took a step forward, bringing more confidence with the puck and in his own zone. His defensive play was fantastic! Frolunda made it to the semi-finals before being ousted by the eventual Swedish champions Vaxjo. Lehkonen was Frolunda’s second-leading scorer with six points in 13 games and a plus-6 rating. It was a very strong first season in Sweden’s top league with one of the best teams in Europe.
Currently Lehkonen is in his second season in Sweden with Frolunda, with 15 goals and 14 assists for 29 points in 42 games. Lehkonen has been one of the better players for Frolunda this season however recently he has gone cold, even throughout the Champions Hockey League which Frolunda recently won. Lehkonen averages 15:39 TOI/game this season, however he has gone pointless in 11 games going into the home game vs Karlskrona HK on the 17th.
Artturi Lehkonen recently signed a new one-year deal with the Frolunda Indians for the 2016-17 SHL season. He is under contract until April 30, 2017. Lehkonen has yet to be signed by the Montreal Canadiens however is under team control as an unsigned draftee until June 1, 2017. The Canadiens will have a month to negotiate a contract with Lehkonen if they don’t sign him before his deal with Frolunda expires.
|Artturi Lehkonen | Scouting Report|
“Lehkonen is a speedy winger and a tenacious battler in the corners. He has a quality wrist shot that makes him a scoring threat whenever he can control the puck in the offensive zone. His defensive game requires improvement in order to compete at the pro level, although it is not much of a concern. He reads the play well and anticipates passes before they happen. As a smaller forward Lehkonen will need to add more bulk to his frame in order to compete for and win those battles for the puck. If Lehkonen can add some muscle to his build, he’ll be a more dangerous player going forward and could challenge for an NHL roster spot, due to his compete level and natural scoring ability.” – Hockey’s Future
|Frolunda HC vs Karlskrona HK | Game Report: February 17, 2016|
Pre-game: Shortly after winning the Champions Hockey League, Frolunda had the trophy brought onto the ice for a celebration as Captain Joel Lundqvist (twin brother of Henrik Lundqvist) hoisted the trophy in front of the home crowd, a massive ovation broke out.
First period: Artturi Lehkonen began the game on the third line alongside former Toronto Maple Leaf forward Joey Crabb and Patrik Carlsson. Lehkonen’s first shift of the game came about one minute into the period, nothing really happened other than offensive zone time. Lehkonen’s second and third shifts of the period were much different, his line was hemmed in the defensive zone but recovered later as they had a very strong o-zone shift with strong forechecking.
Around the 9 minute mark, Lehkonen had the best chance of the game, he was all alone in the slot from a stunning feed from behind the net. He took his time, picked his spot but he was stoned. Shortly after, Karlskrona’s Alexander Wiklund ripped a shot top corner on Lars Johansson to make it 1-0 for the visitors. Frolunda captain Joel Lundqvist about one minute later ripped home his 19th goal of the season to tie the game at one goal apiece. In the minutes and shifts after the games only goals, Lehkonen had back to back strong forechecking shifts. He was one of the best players on the ice in the first period and one of the more noticeable players.
Second period: Just like the first period, Lehkonen’s first shift of the period came early, it was uneventful for the most part, his line was stuck in the defensive zone, they recovered and forechecked hard. Lehkonen had two shifts in the next five minutes of the game, his third shift was one of his best of the game, he forechecked hard, his line had strong o-zone pressure and he parked himself in front of the net but to no avail as they couldn’t score.
On Lehkonen’s next shift which was on the PP, he opened up for the one-timer but Oscar Fantenberg ripped home his fourth goal of the season to give Frolunda a 2-1 lead! Through the second period, Lehkonen’s line created many chances for, they have been perhaps the best line in the game. Frolunda got a late PP and Lehkonen started, he had 1 shot which was stopped by the goalie. He has been buzzing all game long.
Third period: Frolunda started the period on the power-play, however another broken stick thwarted their chance to score, as Karlskrona killed off the penalty. Frolunda controlled the first controlled the first four minutes of the final frame while nursing a 2-1 lead. Goaltender Lars Johansson had a fantastic game.
Lehkonen has not been very noticeable in the third period so far but he has been sound in his own zone which is a must in such a close game. Lehkonen took the ice at the 10 minute mark; he created space without the puck which allowed his linemate Carlsson to walk in a fire a shot which was stopped. At the 12:25 mark, Karlskrona had a 2-on-0 breakaway, the puck carrier decided to fire a shot but he nailed the post.
A short time later, Lehkonen’s line created another chance for. Lehkonen’s fine night continued as he raced back from an offensive-zone faceoff to break up a potential 2-on-1 attack. The following faceoff with his line still out there, Karlskrona tied the game up on a broken play in front of the net with a nice finish. It was a 2-2 score with just over four minutes left in the game.
Falth took a penalty, however Nicklas Lasu with an incredible play shorthanded, stole the puck, deked around the defender and beat the goalie to make it a 3-2 game for Frolunda. Just thirty seconds after the go ahead goal, Frolunda had another shorthanded breakaway but they hit the post. Coach Ronnberg sent out Lehkonen and his line with 40 seconds left, they finished the game off beautifully as they did not allow a scoring chance against.
Frolunda won the game 3-2, a very tight, hard hitting contest. Artturi Lehkonen had a very strong effort despite being on the ice for a goal against. He helped create a goal on the power-play and was solid in the defensive zone.
Final: Frolunda 3 vs Karlskrona 2
|Frolunda HC vs Karlskrona HK | Post-game|
Coach Roger Rönnberg
Artturi Lehkonen: “I played decent, we had a new line and it’s going to take time to find each other, but I think we played decent, we had a couple scoring chances and I had a couple scoring chances but I didn’t just get it in today but that’s how it goes sometimes.”
On being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens “Of course it was an amazing feeling, like I was seeing when they came up on the line and it was quite an exciting time when they called me up and that was pretty sweet. An original six team and they’ve got amazing fans so I really look forward to playing there.”
On being captain of team Finland at the 2014 WJC “Of course it was a huge honour, we were the defending champions that year and it was quite a bit to take when I was in Canada and Montreal in the group stage, it was quite fun, I can tell you that, it was a huge honour but we didn’t do so great as a team so maybe the captain was the one to blame.”
On growing up and playing in Saku Koivu’s hometown and any added pressure for being a Finnish Montreal Canadien “No, not really, like I am going to create my own story but it was like, I really want to do as good as he did, he was a captain for a long time for the Montreal Canadiens and everybody always asks me about Saku so it’s quite a funny coincedance so, yeah, I want to do as good as him but I want to build my own story.”
Coach Ronnberg: “It wasn’t our best game to be honest, we found a way to win but we didn’t have the tempo, our skills were not there today. We’re not pleased with the performance but we’re pleased with the win.”
On Artturi Lehkonen “I think he was good today, he was good in his new environment with Joey Crabb and I think they were the best line on the ice today.”
“He is a lot stronger, he is faster on the ice, more often involved in offensive situations, I think he has grown really good this season and he has developed to be a top player in this league.”