Lehkonen Utilization – Truth or Fiction?

By JD Lagrange – Many fans feel like Lehkonen was not utilized properly while with the Canadiens. Some claim that he was boxed into a limited role in Montreal and now that he’s in Colorado, he’s finally under better coaching, or better utilization anyway. Now is it truth or fiction?

From the get go, my colleague Bob Trask brought up a very good point which perhaps, can be taken into consideration.

Utilization sample

Based on data from Dobbersports.com, let’s look at Lehkonen’s utilization in the past five plus years. The following ice time percentage is only at even strengths. I have also set a 2% lower limit for ice time as anything less is rather irrelevant when determining the majority of the time.

SEASONFREQUENCYLINEMATES
2016-1715.20%Byron – Plekanec
11.07%Radulov – Plekanec
11.02%Danault – Shaw
10.29%Galchenyuk – Shaw
10.19%Flynn – Plekanec
4.62%Galchenyuk – Gallagher
4.30%Plekanec – Shaw
3.84%Byron – Galchenyuk
3.62%Andrighetto – Plekanec
3.37%Galchenyuk – Radulov
3.35%Desharnais – Shaw
2.96%Galchenyuk – King
2.08%Gallagher – Plekanec

In 2016-17, Lehkonen averaged 16:52 minutes of ice time per game. That was his rookie season, when he scored 18 goals. Tomas Plekanec was the team’s number one center, playing 16:49 minutes. Lehkonen played mostly with Plekanec, but also spent some time with Phillip Danault and Alex Galchenyuk.

SEASONFREQUENCY %LINEMATES
2017-1819.34%Gallagher – Plekanec
16.84%De la Rose – Galchenyuk
12.98%Drouin – Galchenyuk
10.17%Drouin – Pacioretty
5.73%Drouin – Byron
4.46%Hudon – Plekanec
2.48%Hudon – Pacioretty
2.38%Danault – Pacioretty

In 2017-18, Lehkonen was fourth in ice time amongst forwards on the team with 16:29 minutes per game. That’s the year they tried Jonathan Drouin at center, and he played 17:36 minutes, most of any. Phillip Danault (16:35), Plekanec (16:18) and Galchenyuk (16:14) were used very evenly. Lehkonen spent most of his time with Galchenyuk, but spent considerable time with both Plekanec and Drouin.

SEASONFREQUENCY %LINEMATES
2018-1915.32%Armia – Kotkaniemi
13.10%Domi – Shaw
9.38%Byron – Kotkaniemi
9.30%Domi – Drouin
6.02%Agostino – Kotkaniemi
3.88%Byron – Domi
3.88%Thompson – Weise
3.52%Kotkaniemi – Shaw
3.22%Armia – Domi
2.90%Domi – Tatar
2.06%Hudon – Kotkaniemi

In 2018-19, Lehkonen dropped by almost a minute, averaging 15:33 minutes per game. Danault (17:47), Max Domi (17:23) and Jesperi Kotkaniemi (13:44) were the team’s top-3 centers. In spite of his drop in ice time, Lehkonen split his time with Kotkaniemi and Domi mostly.

SEASONFREQUENCY %LINEMATES
2019-2018.36%Domi – Suzuki
11.61%Armia – Domi
5.65%Armia – Suzuki
5.57%Domi – Weal
4.08%Danault – Gallagher
3.71%Armia – Kotkaniemi
3.63%Kotkaniemi – Weal
2.82%Cousins – Domi
2.73%Kotkaniemi – Poehling
2.68%Suzuki – Tatar
2.68%Byron – Kotkaniemi
2.63%Cousins – Thompson
2.46%Domi – Drouin

In 2019-20, Lehkonen’s ice time was similar to the previous season, averaging 15:29 minutes per game. Max Domi was his center for the most part, but he spent considerable time with rookie Nick Suzuki as well. That year, he certainly bounced around the line-up more than in previous years. I feel like this wasn’t a knock against Lehky, quite the opposite. It spoke of his versatility as the coach trusted in him.

SEASONFREQUENCY %LINEMATES
2020-2130.1%Byron – Evans
11.1%Armia – Kotkaniemi
9.0%Byron – Kotkaniemi
6.3%Perry – Staal
3.8%Byron – Danault
3.8%Evans – Caufield
2.9%Danault – Anderson
2.8%Staal – Evans
2.4%Kotkaniemi – Evans
2.0%Anderson – Kotkaniemi

2020-21 seems to be when the coaching staff started giving Lehkonen more of a defensive role and his ice time suffered, going down to 13:25 minutes per game. twelve forwards averaged more ice time than him that season. He spent a lot of time with Jake Evans at center, although he did play with Kotkaniemi quite a bit and with Eric Staal when the Canadiens acquired him. On a side note, Lehkonen averaged 15:07 of ice time in the playoffs, so the coaches played him more.

2021-22 season

Now to this season. As the Canadiens went through a coaching change, I figured that I would split the ice time based on who was the coach. I was also curious to know what three coaches thought of Lehkonen in different situations so I’ve added the short-handed and power play time.

TEAMCOACHTOI/GPSH TOI/GPPP TOI/GP
MONTREALDucharme14:312:140:16
St-Louis15:161:591:46
COLORADOBednar16:260:542:16

Now for the linemates… It would have been a very difficult task to break down the percentages between the Habs and the Avs, so this is how they present them. So the actual percentage numbers are not relevant as it relates to ice time between the two teams so we have to look at them team by team. This is why I put the Habs in red.

With the Canadiens, he was playing mostly on Evans’ line, and spent a bit of time with Suzuki.

With the Avalanche, he is mostly playing on the third line with J.T. Compher as his regular center. He did have the spot shift with Nathan MacKinnon.

SEASONFREQUENCY %LINEMATES
2021-2211.2%Armia – Evans
10.0%Toffoli – Suzuki
5.6%Gallagher – Evans
4.8%Nichushkin – Compher
4.7%Pitlick – Evans
3.7%Nichushkin – MacKinnon
3.5%Armia – Paquette
3.5%Burakovsky – Compher
3.2%Poehling – Caufield
3.2%Armia – Dvorak
3.1%Armia – Poehling
2.7%Poehling – Pezzetta
2.5%Hoffman – Suzuki
2.2%Suzuki – Caufield
2.1%Compher – Newhook
2.0%Poehling – Evans

Conclusion

For the first few years of his career, I argue that Lehkonen wasn’t given a strictly defensive role. But the for the past two seasons, particularly under Claude Julien and Dominique Ducharme, he wasn’t used enough offensively. And when given a chance to produce, he’s a very capable winger not only defensively, but offensively too.

So yes, you can keep saying that the Canadiens’ coaching staff, at least the past two years, weren’t using Lehky to his full potential. He is right where he should be in his role with the Avalanche. Still, the Canadiens did very well in the return they got for him at trade deadline. It will be very interesting to see what type of contract he will be getting at the end of the season.

More reading…

3 thoughts on “Lehkonen Utilization – Truth or Fiction?

Leave a Reply