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A big-time talent

Artturi Lehkonen already has a few veteran fans in the Canadiens' locker room

by Matt Cudzinowski @canadiensmtl /

BROSSARD - Take it from Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher - Artturi Lehkonen has some serious game.

Linemates through the first two scrimmages of training camp for Team B, Galchenyuk and Gallagher have both been impressed with the way the Finnish hopeful has gone about his business on the left side.

While still very much a newcomer to plying his trade on smaller ice, the 21-year-old prospect already has a few veterans praising what he brings to the table.

"He's a skilled player. He works hard. The thing that impresses me with him being a young guy is his ability and trying to make plays," said Galchenyuk, who also fully appreciates Lehkonen's patience with the puck amidst rather chaotic conditions in early scrimmage action. "It's always sloppy and bouncy because people haven't skated in so long. There isn't much room there, but he's not afraid to slow down the play a bit and to look for me or Gally and be a creative player."

For his part, Gallagher believes the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) standout is blessed with certain intangibles that will ultimately go a long way towards helping him become a successful pro on this side of the pond.

"He's very smart. He understands the game. Hockey sense is something that you can't really teach. When you get a player with it, you feel like he can be a useful player, whether it's now or down the road. He's certainly impressive. He's a cool guy, easy to play with," shared Gallagher, who, like Galchenyuk, is convinced that the former second-round selection is a quick study. "He's always right on the puck. He doesn't cheat offensively. He's easy to play with. He seems to understand systems and he's been picking everything up quick. So far, so good."

Video: Gallagher on Lehkonen

While Galchenyuk insists that the Canadiens' young gun is "definitely close" to being NHL ready right now, Lehkonen is focused on learning as much as he possibly can from playing against his elder counterparts. After all, he's still adapting to the nuances of suiting up on North American ice.

"When you play these scrimmages, you're facing players who've been playing this game for a lot of years now. They're more experienced. You see the types of decisions they make on the ice and you just try to learn from that," shared Lehkonen, before going on to reiterate the importance of his playing in the 2016 Rookie Tournament in London, ON last weekend in preparation for main camp at the Bell Sports Complex. "It was really good for me when I got here [to have played in London]. I got the chance to get those three games under my belt."

Growing increasingly comfortable in his new surroundings day after day, Lehkonen is taking the NHL training camp experience in stride with his ultimate goal in sight.

Video: Lehkonen on his first few days of camp

"The pressure is always going to be there. I'm here to try to fight for a spot and I want to show what I'm capable of. I feel pretty good so far. It's been pretty fun," mentioned Lehkonen with a smile. "I'm hoping, if I have a really good camp, that I can really get a spot in here. That's my goal for this year, for sure."

And, the Canadiens are giving him every opportunity to prove his worth at the NHL level, knowing full well that if he doesn't crack the roster in Montreal come October, he could potentially return to Scandinavia to play for Frolunda HC for a third straight year.

"For us, it isn't an ideal situation. That's why we want to put him in a position to see how he reads the play alongside other NHL guys, to see if he's capable of adapting to the rhythm out there," said head coach Michel Therrien, clearly a fan of Lehkonen's skill set, too. "So far, I'm seeing that from him."

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