Easily the most interesting acquisition the Colorado Avalanche made at the trade deadline was bringing in versatile winger Artturi Lehkonen from the Montreal Canadiens. Though the cost was a bit painful with top defensive prospect Justin Barron and a 2024 second round pick going the other way it was a move to help the middle six both now and hopefully in the future.
Who is Artturi Lehkonen?
The basics are a 5-foot 11 and 176lbs left shot forward who has played both left and right wing. He was drafted by Montreal in the second round at 55th overall in 2013. After growing up in the same youth system as Mikko Rantanen with TPS in Finland Lehkonen played a couple years with Frölunda in the SHL before beginning his North American professional career. He stepped into Montreal right away and how has played 396 games over six NHL seasons with totals of 74 goals and 149 points.
The rich get richer. Artturi Lehkonen is a great defensive forward who can also generate offense off the cycle. This is a strong move by the Avalanche to bolster their middle-six depth. pic.twitter.com/Z3VvYtl9I4— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) March 21, 2022
The analytics community is understandably excited about what Lehkonen brings to the ice. On a very poor Canadiens team this season he still upheld positive metrics with a 52.53% Corsi For and a 55.73% of expected goals. In actual goals scored against Lehkonen has been on the ice for 27 at 5v5 and only 28 against. On a team with currently a -78 goal differential that’s fairly significant.
Artturi Lehkonen (to Colorado) is a strong defence-only forward. pic.twitter.com/6VfArTGgvS— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) March 21, 2022
An interesting contrast to the fact that Lehkonen has been lauded for his defensive prowess but his offense has been one of the few catalysts that Montreal has counted on this season. He was third in points with 29 on the Canadiens only trailing Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Of that 29 points 25 of them are at 5v5 and a whopping 21 are primary points. Keeping in mind that Lehkonen was on the ice for 27 goals for at even strength means that he was involved with an incredible 93% of the goals scored in his time on ice.
Against the Avalanche Lehkonen undoubtedly left an impression on his new employers finishing off this two-on-one with Suzuki on their way to a 3-2 overtime defeat.
Where does Lehkonen fit in right now?
General Manager Joe Sakic remarked in his trade deadline press conference that the vision was to pair Lehkonen with Alex Newhook, presumably long term. With Gabe Landeskog currently still on the shelf that could mean either the second or third line although if the organization would prefer to keep Newhook at center that would indicate more of a third line assignment. In the present Lehkonen could also fill-in on the second line and allow Val Nichuskin to keep helping out on the top line.
No doubt Lehkonen will become part of the plans to revamp the struggling penalty kill. This season with Montreal he was the top forward in time on ice with the man disadvantage at just over two minutes per game. Lehkonen’s defensive acumen should serve the unit well along with the other strong penalty killers picked up before the trade deadline. On the power play might be a different story as Lehkonen has seen more infrequent use there and has only one power play goal this season but could join the long list of options the Avalanche rotate through on the second unit.
Where does Lehkonen fit in the future?
As a pending Restricted Free Agent Lehkonen was a player Montreal did not have to move because of the team control extending beyond this season. If the Avalanche were spending dwindling assets on help now they needed to invest a little into the future with a player who projects to solidify the second and third lines with the turnover expected this summer, and thus this was the perfect fit. Lehkonen will have arbitration rights once his two-year $2.3M contract expires after this season and the Avalanche would be wise to lock him up to something similar to Devon Toews’ four-year $16.4M contract he signed after he was brought over from the New York Islanders. A deal like that could potentially have Toews like impact as Lehkonen has the same targeted strong analytic background.