Canadiens’ Lehkonen Primed for a Breakout Season

In case you were wondering, Montreal Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen is very eager to get the 2019-20 season underway.

After a career year in points with 31, Lehkonen has been training in Finland this summer and looks primed to improve on his season totals from a year ago, in which he scored 11 goals and added 20 assists. At the tender age of 24, this Finnish forward is primed to make a big impact on the Canadiens not only this season but for years to come. The organization’s patience with him is about to pay off in a big way since ‘Lehky’ has already proven capable of snapping out of a sophomore slump. His 31 points last season were 10 better than his sophomore season, so there’s still room for growth in his game.

Artturi Lehkonen
Artturi Lehkonen of the Montreal Canadiens. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Here are few reasons why fans should be as eager as Lehkonen for the 2019-20 season to start, and why they can expect a breakout season from him, which will only benefit the Canadiens in their push for a playoff spot.

Lehkonen’s Bridge Deal

When general manager Marc Bergevin inked Lehkonen to a modest two-year contract, it was clear that significant improvement was expected over the course of his bridge deal.

From the Canadiens perspective, Lehkonen will earn $200,000 less than fellow Finnish forward Joel Armia, who also signed a two-year bridge deal with the club. Lehkonen’s cap hit is $2.4 million going into 2019-20, whereas Armia will carry a $2.6 million cap hit for the next two years. This represents a reasonable dollar figure for a player who can slot into their top three forward lines and provide good skating and hockey smarts. They’ve seen flashes of brilliance from Lehkonen at times, but both parties are looking for more consistency moving forward.

Artturi Lehkonen, Edward Pasquale
Montreal Canadiens left wing Artturi Lehkonen scores on former Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Edward Pasquale. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

From Lekhonen’s perspective, it represents an opportunity to show why he will be worth a bigger dollar amount and why the Canadiens brass would be wise to lock him up long-term when he’s a restricted free agent again in the summer of 2022. Scoring more goals will go a long way in both sides getting what they want. The Canadiens want to make sure he continues to improve his point totals year after year, whereas the player is likely looking for a breakout season to prove his value to the club goes well beyond his reasonable cap hit. After all, this is why bridge deals are made in the first place, and if he wants to cash in on his next contract and earn even more than he already has, he’ll need to have breakout seasons in 2019-20 and beyond.

Recapping Lehkonen’s 2018-19 Season

Lehkonen showed chemistry playing alongside fellow Finns Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Armia for much of last season, and coach Claude Julien relied heavily on the line’s ability to play a strong two-way game. Even though he wasn’t scoring much, Lehkonen aided the Canadiens by helping those two newcomers gel and gain confidence throughout the season. That Finnish line was balanced out by his solid two-way play, and his speed and forecheck helped create space for his fellow linemates game in, game out. His plus-10 rating is also a strong demonstration of how his 200-foot game helps not only keep the puck out of his own net but generate scoring chances for his club as well.

Perhaps the biggest knock against Lehkonen is his goal-scoring ability. He’s yet to come close to the 18 goals he scored as a rookie, and the Canadiens will need more from him in this regard if they’re going to challenge for a Stanley Cup anytime soon. Had he perhaps scored more goals in 2018-19, Bergevin would have had no problem signing him to a long-term deal, but this isn’t the case.

Montreal Canadiens left wing Artturi Lehkonen
Montreal Canadiens left wing Artturi Lehkonen (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

That being said, Lehkonen did eventually start to deliver his goal-scoring capabilities for the Canadiens, albeit a little too late in the season. He started to find his groove playing alongside Max Domi and Andrew Shaw, who was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks this summer. Lehkonen finished the season scoring three times in the last eight games. While not a premier scorer’s pace by any means, it was a nice change for him considering he had last lit the lamp back on Dec. 28, 2018.

A Breakout Season in 2019-20?

If Lehkonen is eager for this season to start, fans are even more so. The Canadiens will be icing a great group of young forwards and at 24 years old, he will be a leader amongst them.

He doesn’t shy from going into the corners or standing in front of the net. He’s likely taking all the advice he can get from his close friend and teammate, Brendan Gallagher, who has suddenly turned into a scoring machine for the Canadiens in recent seasons. The linemates and resources are there for Lehkonen to have a breakout season, as he uses his speed well and can be a terrific playmaker.

Pekka Rinne, Artturi Lehkonen
Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne blocks a shot by Montreal Canadiens’ Artturi Lehkonen. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

What will a sophomore season from Kotkaniemi look like? Could Ryan Poehling, whom Lekhonen helped assist in scoring his hat-trick goal at the end of last season, be able to find chemistry on the Domi line? Whichever teammates Lehkonen finds himself playing with, you’ll know where to find him: in front of the net, crashing and banging in a desperate attempt to score.

Going into 2019-20, can Lehkonen come close to the 18 goals he scored as a rookie and put long stretches of goalless games behind him? His cold streaks and long goalless droughts were frustrating, but his skating and hockey sense is what kept him in the lineup and earned the trust of the coaching staff. A player who is hungry for the season to begin usually means he’s ready to start racking up some serious point totals, so fans are eager to see what he can bring to the club in 2019-20.

Carter Hutton, Artturi Lehkonen, Rasmus Dahlin,
Montreal Canadiens’ Artturi Lehkonen moves in on Buffalo Sabres’ goaltender Carter Hutton as Rasmus Dahlin defends (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

The Finnish forward has put in the training. He’s gotten a new, team-friendly contract. Now, he’s got to start putting the puck in the net to show fans and management that he’s capable of even more than what we’ve seen thus far, and October can’t come soon enough for this Finnish speedster to prove himself. Who knows what Lehkonen will be capable of over the course of his NHL career, but one thing’s for sure, we haven’t seen this man’s full potential yet.