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Right at home, but far away

Artturi Lehkonen has enjoyed a seamless transition into life in his new hockey home

by Hugo Fontaine, translated by Matt Cudzinowski @canadiensMTL /

MONTREAL - Artturi Lehkonen knew he wouldn't have any trouble adapting to life in Montreal.

From the moment he showed up at Rookie Camp this September, the 21-year-old Finn was already being asked about how he planned on growing accustomed to playing on North American ice on this side of the pond.

The more time marched on, the more the fiery forward continued to prove he was up to the challenge.

"I get why people are asking all those questions about getting used to the North American style of hockey. It's different, but in the end, it's the same game. You just have to make some little adjustments. That's it," underlined Lehkonen, who has 11 goals and 16 points so far in his Freshman Canadiens campaign.

Born and raised in Pikkio, a town whose population hovers around 7,000, Lehkonen eventually saw his hockey career take him to Turku and then Kuopio in his native Finland, before he wrapped up his European apprenticeship with a two-year stint in Gothenburg, one of Sweden's biggest cities.

While he admits that acclimating to Montreal traffic and construction - complete with endless orange cones - was new to him, coping with harsh winters certainly wasn't. In fact, Lehkonen stresses that lifestyles in Europe and Montreal are more similar than they are different.

"The cultures are different. The biggest difference between Europe and Montreal is that everything is a little bit bigger over here, but life here isn't that different than in Sweden. They're still different places with different customs than what I'm used to in Europe, though, and I haven't had much time to get used to the city itself because we're so focused on hockey every day. The guys have helped me with that part," said Lehkonen, the Canadiens' second-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

While players have a hard time flying under the radar in Montreal, they typically get far less attention when they're on the road in other cities around the League. That's really when Lehkonen gets to spend some quality time with his teammates to learn more about life in the NHL, both on the ice and away from the spotlight.

"We usually go out together when we're on the road. He hangs out more often with the younger guys in Montreal. On the road, he likes to go out for dinners a little bit earlier, just like me," shared veteran Tomas Plekanec, who is 13 years Lehkonen's senior. "We talk a lot when we're together. He's very mature for his age. Guys from Sweden and Finland, they usually adapt right away because their English is pretty good already." 

Having played alongside the Canadiens' rookie for stretches since the start of the season, Plekanec didn't take long to appreciate Lehkonen's immense talent.

Plekanec deflects credit for helping Lehkonen adapt to his new surroundings - despite the rookie's claims to the contrary. Instead, the Czech centerman insists that his young protégé was already primed to take this next step in his hockey career.

"I didn't know much about him before we met. I knew that he played in Sweden and that he won the Champions League title in Europe last year. I consider the Swedish League the best one in Europe. That League will get you ready for the NHL, for sure. You can see it - he's 21 years old and he's already adapted himself to the team system. He didn't really need to adjust anything. He did it right away," said Plekanec, who debuted in the North American ranks as a 19-year-old with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs.

Unlike Plekanec, who purchased the bulk of his meals at Hamilton's Jackson Square Mall during his early years in Canada, Lehkonen - who preferred his solo apartment life even in Sweden - hasn't shied away from trying his hand in the kitchen while living on his own in Montreal. 

Instagram from @arainumos: Always nice to have family visiting! First time for them in Montreal and they loved It here!��������

"We're on the road so much that we eat at restaurants quite a bit. Every time we're at home, I want to cook my own food because I miss having a good home-cooked meal. My go-to meal is spaghetti Bolognese," mentioned Lehkonen, who was able to cook for his family when they came to visit him in Montreal back in December.

"The fact that it went well getting used to life outside of the rink helped me," continued Lehkonen. "Otherwise, I would've been tired after a while. You need something to do when you're not playing hockey."

Having stayed calm and cool through all of the changes and new experiences in his life over the past six months, Lehkonen quickly earned the respect of his new teammates and coaches. Head coach Michel Therrien wasted little time upping his workload, despite his inexperience at the NHL level.

Video: BUF@MTL: Lehkonen lifts smooth wrister in over Lehner

While Lehkonen has less than 50 games under his belt, Therrien hasn't hesitated to line him up against some of the League's biggest names. That's a trend the Canadiens bench boss expects to continue down the road.  

"What I like about him is that he keeps getting better. The better he gets, the more comfortable he gets. He's a smart player. He's really good at both sides of the ice," praised Therrien. "When you're a rookie and you play against top players, you have to be really responsible when you go out there. He is." 

Lehkonen's successful transition to the NHL may have been quick, but he's more interested in what he can do with even more time in the League.

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