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A champion among champions

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Artturi Lehkonen is enjoying a remarkable season both in Sweden and elsewhere, too.

The Canadiens prospect, who is sporting the colours of the Swedish Elite League’s Frölunda Indians these days, claimed a rather special trophy last week when his squad captured the Champions Hockey League title. A total of 48 teams from Europe’s top professional leagues battled it out for the crown, with Frölunda besting Finland’s Oulun Kärpät by a score of 2-1 in the championship tilt.

It marked the Champions Hockey League’s second season, and a Swedish contingent secured the European Trophy once again in 2015-16.

“It just goes to show what level hockey is at in Sweden right now. The competition is really strong in that league. It’s a really great place to play,” explained Lehkonen, who has been a member of Frölunda for two seasons.

CHL games are integrated into the regular season schedules of European leagues, with the exception of the group phase contests which are played during the offseason. That also presents a good opportunity for all involved to remain in peak physical shape throughout the year.

“The games in the group phase are a little special. You’re playing against different teams in different leagues from all around Europe. It’s really good,” explained Lehkonen, who was a second-round pick of the Canadiens back in 2013. “It’s not like playing exhibition games against teams that you go up against in your own league. It’s good to be able to play in other countries.”

Not only did the final stage of the competition play out in Frölunda’s favour, but the road they had to travel to reach their ultimate goal also proved to be an important part of their success within their own league. The Indians currently sit second in the SHL’s general standings.

“It’s a great learning experience for us. It helps us get a small taste of the hockey culture in other countries,” mentioned Lehkonen, a Finn, who captained his country’s squad during the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship. “It’s extremely important for our team because it helps to unite us even more than we already are. We spend a lot of time together and it’s great for team spirit. It helps with our season in the SHL.”

The experience the 20-year-old forward acquired throughout the tournament certainly had a noticeable impact on his individual play, too. It’s safe to say he’s had a productive year.

“Up to this point, I’d have to consider this season as my breakout year. But, there are plenty of games left to be played,” said Lehkonen, who is the Indians’ third-best goal scorer and boasts five game-winning goals – which ties him for top spot in the SHL in that department. “My role has changed a bit since last year. I had some more defensive responsibilities on my line. This year, my focus is based mainly on offense, which is more like me.”

With the bulk of their players aged 25 and under, Frölunda has a ton of young talent in its arsenal. That’s something that will only help Lehkonen to take his play to another level in hopes of eventually making the jump across the pond to the pro ranks in North America.

“We have good chemistry on our team. There are a lot of young guys who want to step up and want to play in North America. That’s excellent for me because of the strong internal competition. Guys are pushing each other to be better,” mentioned Lehkonen, who has been paying close

attention to the advice of Frölunda’s elder statesman, defenseman Elias Fälth. “He helped me a lot with my development. He was living in the same building as me and he really helped me out as much on the ice as off it.”

While the up-and-coming left-winger has made solid strides when it comes to point production, he insists his progress extends far beyond registering his name more frequently on the score sheet. Asked if he was still tipping the scales at 163 pounds, Lehkonen laughed and asserted that it was no longer the case.

“163 pounds? That’s impossible. I think I’m more around 178 pounds today,” said the Turku native – which also just happens to be the hometown of players like Saku Koivu, Miikka Kiprusoff and Sami Salo – who believes he’ll most likely remain in Europe next season barring a last-minute change of plans. “I still have another year on my contract with Frölunda. But, you never know what can happen over the summer. If I continue to develop really well or there are setbacks…We’ll know later.”

Given his progression so far, option A is a lot more likely than option B.

Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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