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…

Justin Barron Seizing His Opportunity

In life, you can wait a long time to get your opportunity but when you do, it’s important that you do everything in your power to make the most of it. There is no way that Justin Barron could have done that with the Colorado Avalanche this season, or maybe even next year. Not with the quality and depth that they have at their blue line. When traded to Montreal in a package for Artturi Lehkonen, he was going to an organization where their biggest need was for right-handed defensemen.

Not only was he traded to a team in need of players like him, he walked into perhaps the best situation he could have imagined. With the team in the basement of the NHL, the Canadiens had brought in a coach in Martin St-Louis who had for mission to allow for better development and giving management the opportunity to better assess what they had on hand. Mistakes are not important, even if they result in goals against, young players would be given enough rope to make the most of it or to hang themselves. The key from the coaching staff’s perspective was for them to learn from their mistakes and avoid repeating the same ones over and over.

Immediate impact

It didn’t take long for Barron to get his feet wet. In his very first game against the New Jersey Devils, the coaching staff played him just shy of 18 minutes that game. He managed three shots on goal with no time on special teams. While not perfect, the 20 year-old did leave a good first impression. In fact, only Alexander Romanov (24:05), David Savard (22:40) and Joel Edmundson (18:27) played more than Barron. But unlike the rookie, they all had time on special teams.

The competition got more serious for the next three games. The Canadiens were visiting three of the Eastern Conference’s top teams as they were visiting the Panthers, the Hurricanes and the Lightning. Amazingly enough, Barron faired quite well against top opposition with the Habs not having the last change.

vs NJDvs FLAvs CARvs TBLvs OTTTOTALS
G000011
A010001
PTS010012
+/-0-20+1-1-2
TOI17:5520:4318:4020:2617:2119:01
PP TOI0:000:532:420:531:471:15
SH TOI0:002:411:160:000:340:54
SOG3122513
BLKS013004
HITS102104

Amazingly enough, Barron was trusted for three shifts in overtime in New Jersey and two more shifts in overtime against Tampa Bay.

Playing at the Bell Centre for the first time, Barron did well, managing five shots on goal. Scoring his first NHL goal on home ice is something fans made sure the young defenseman would never forget. They made it even more memorable by giving him a standing ovation. Boy is it good to see that rink rocking with fans again!

In five games so far, Barron is first amongst defensemen in shots on goal (13), second in points (1 back of Chris Wideman) and fourth in ice time, 11 seconds fewer than Joel Edmundson. Not bad for a first impression at 20 years old, isn’t it? Now imagine him on the blue line paired with Kaiden Guhle in the future.

More reading…