Artturi Lehkonen & Alex Galchenyuk: Players on Different Courses

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…” wrote Charles Dickens. This classic opening aptly describes how two former Montreal Canadiens, Artturi Lehkonen and Alex Galchenyuk, started the preseason as they found themselves in the Colorado Avalanche’s top six left-wing positions. Their situations couldn’t be more different, or their skills more opposite: one has them to make us believe; the other left us incredulous.

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It is the best of times for Lehkonen, one of the heroes of the 2022 playoffs. He is fresh off making the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive seasons, scoring game-winning goals in both and earning a salary that showed faith in his scoring touch. Questions about the merits of his contract will follow him through the next few seasons, as his 13% shooting percentage last season was well above his norm.

Artturi Lehkonen
Artturi Lehkonen player card, via @JFreshHockey

With the Canadiens, Lehkonen was a Swiss Army knife. He could play in all situations and be trusted with his assignment unless it was scoring. He scored some big goals in key situations, but his shooting percentage has generally been in the single digits. The number of gimme goals Lehkonen missed over his career is countless, which makes this writer wonder if last season was an aberration.

Will the Real Lehkonen Please Stand Up?

The numbers in the graph are based on performance and not ability. Yes, players progress. Historically, it seems more likely he will regress at some point, even if fans hope he doesn’t. The most positive outlook would argue that Lehkonen was always that good but wasn’t put in the right situations.

For instance, if he is riding shotgun beside the highest-paid player in the NHL and/or Mikko Rantanen, we have to assume he is that good. At the very least, he is good enough to play second-line minutes, as opposed to shutdown, third-line minutes.

Artturi Lehkonen Colorado Avalanche
Artturi Lehkonen, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

If he plays with Alex Newhook, his results may vary. In this recent article from The Athletic, Nathan MacKinnon said, “We need …(Newhook)… to be a two-way player” (from ‘Alex Newhook, Avalanche second-line center? The youngster is getting a chance,’ The Athletic, Oct. 3, 2022).

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Fair enough. But if Newhook’s play falters or he doesn’t live up to expectations, Lehkonen could have one of those seasons where his shooting percentage dips back to his average, somewhere around seven percent. Wouldn’t that be the worst of times?

Galchenyuk: The Worst of Times

Galchenyuk, recently released by the Avalanche, has not had an easy career since his quick start in Montreal. It isn’t his fault. He was rushed; the Marc Bergevin (former general manager) era wasn’t known for its patience with players or its commitment to player development. Galchenyuk showed great promise and made good on it to a point. In his third season, he potted 30 goals, and mid-career, he was averaging 20 goals a season. In other words, he provided decent second-line production on an average team or strong third-line production on a good one.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t have great hockey sense, which limits his usefulness on a third line. His career shooting percentage is 11.5 – much better than Lehkonen’s 9.2 – but he has major issues taking care of the puck. He simply isn’t as complete a player.

This discussion on the Steve Dangle podcast – “he doesn’t have the grind, he doesn’t have the defensive abilities necessarily, he doesn’t have the effort” – highlights how he is viewed by many around the NHL.

But the Avalanche are facing a few different scenarios in which he could be useful to them. If they get hit with an injury bug or a Cup run hangover, it might change their thinking. The pressure to repeat is surely there, and finding a way to get Lehkonen a bit further down the lineup might prove beneficial. As good as the newest kids are, Galchenyuk might be a better fit on the second line, but it depends on how much his turnovers hurt the team’s results. In the playoffs two seasons ago, his giveaway lost the Maple Leafs a winnable game.

So, despite a career playing for six teams in 10 years, it is not over yet for Galchenyuk. It seems a recent injury was the main factor in his release. He could be a really solid player in the right situation, especially if his coach has faith in him.

Lehkonen has proven to be a fantastic NHLer with excellent defensive awareness and some untapped offensive potential. Although the Avalanche paid a high price for him, he has been worth every penny. Galchenyuk, who didn’t make the team out of training camp, should bide his time. If he gets healthy and stays in shape, the Avalanche are just a few injuries away from needing his services. That would certainly turn his “worst of times” scenario into “the best of times.”

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