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Lehkonen: A Transformed Player

By JD Lagrange – Who doesn’t like Artturi Lehkonen? The guy still has many friends in the Canadiens’ organization. A smile that never ends, a hard working player leaving it out on the ice day in, day out. But also a guy who was highly underrated during his time in Montreal, both by fans and, by looking at his utilization and stats, by the coaching staff as well.

When they fired GM Marc Bergevin and hired Jeff Gorton, the Canadiens were in a bit of a pickle cap-wise. In fact, they still are although adding Sean Monahan’s $6.375 million is on the current management group. But when we go back to March 2022, Artturi Lehkonen was playing the final year of a contract coming with a cap hit of $2.3 million. He was due for a raise and the Canadiens didn’t feel that they had the place or money for him moving forward.

On March 22nd, they traded the 26-year old Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche for 20 year-old right-handed defenseman Justin Barron and the Avs’ second round pick in 2024. We know the rest. Lehkonen played an integral part in Colorado’s Stanley Cup win while the Canadiens continued what Bergevin had started in 2018 by getting younger, a reset, rebuild, re-whatever so to speak.

Transformed player

Under Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar, Lehkonen is a transformed player. In fact, Bednar has done with the Finnish winger what Martin St-Louis has done with Cole Caufield in a way. Since joining the Avs, Lehkonen, known predominantly for his defensive play, has become an offensive weapon as well.

It’s easier to show in a table than in words, so have a look at the metamorphose:

PACE OVER 82GP8215163115:000:451:47
PACE OVER 82GP8227315819:233:261:20

Talk about a difference. He’s still the same good guy, the same great teammate, the same defensively reliable, hard working player that he was in Montreal. But he is showing the offensive skills that he had displayed in his rookie season when he scored 18 goals and was thought to become a great 200-foot player.

This season, coach Bodnar was in a bind when Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog fell to a long term injury. So the coach leaned heavily on Lehkonen to pick up some of the slack and he is responding beautifully. In fact, here’s what he’s doing so far this season…

PACE OVER 82GP8224406421:074:081:35

He also has only three giveaways all season.

Since joining the Avalanche, Lehkonen has signed a five-year contract extension worth $22.5 million ($4.5 million cap hit). To put that into perspective, compare that to the offer-sheet the Carolina Hurricanes gave to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, with the first year at $6.1 million and another eight years at $4.82 million. Joe Sakic made a hockey trade while Don Waddell had to obey his revengeful owner Tom Dundon in a non-hockey deal.

Would Lehky have had the same turnaround in Montreal? No one knows for sure. Maybe St-Louis would have had the same effect on him as Bodnar did, or maybe not. We will never know. What we do know is that Lehkonen is not complaining. He may miss the city of Montreal and the friends that he’s made, but he has a Stanley Cup to show for and a coach who believes in him, providing him with every opportunity to succeed.

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