On Sunday, the 20-year-old left-winger took another step towards achieving that objective by signing a three-year, two-way contract (2016-17 to 2018-19) with the Canadiens just over two weeks after helping Frölunda HC defeat Skellefteå AIK in five games to claim the Swedish Hockey League title for the first time since 2005.
“It’s a dream come true to sign an NHL contract, especially with the Canadiens. It’s really special. I’ve been working for this for a long time. Now, I’m going to get my shot at making my ultimate dream of playing in the NHL come true. It’s going to be a really exciting time,” said Lehkonen, who is enjoying some well-deserved rest before getting back to work next week in Sweden where he’ll spend the summer working out. “I want to take a spot [on the team], of course. That’s my goal for next year. That’s what I’m going for. It’s a big opportunity for me.”
Selected in the second round, 55th overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Piikkiö, Finland native has spent the last two seasons with the Gothenburg-based franchise honing his game in preparation to make the jump to the NHL ranks – and it’s clearly paying off.
After putting up eight goals and 16 points in 47 games in 2014-15, Lehkonen managed to double his regular-season point production totals with 16 goals and 33 points in 49 games this past season, before going on a record-breaking scoring streak during the playoffs.
With 19 points in 16 postseason outings, Lehkonen surpassed Daniel Alfredsson’s franchise mark for the most points (18) in a single playoff run dating back to the last time Frölunda claimed the coveted Le Mat Trophy 11 years ago. Lehkonen’s American teammate Ryan Lasch put up 19 points, too.
“Our team was really awesome. We had really great chemistry. It was one of the best teams that I’ve ever been with. We had such a passion for winning. A team in Gothenburg hadn’t won a title in a long time, so we were on a mission the whole year that this was going to be our season. Determination, I think, was the biggest part of it all. It was the greatest experience I’ve had in my life. The feeling of winning is big,” said Lehkonen, who also helped the Indians win the Champions Hockey League title in early February, besting Finland’s Oulun Kärpät by a score of 2-1 in the decisive contest.
“Personally, my season was a lot better than the one before it. I knew I had a big spot open on the team, and I wanted to be sure I was ready for it,” added Lehkonen, referencing his third and sixth-place finishes on the club in goals and points respectively in 2015-16 heading into the SHL playoffs. “It was a big development year. Then, the real crown on it all was the playoffs. It all went my way. I wasn’t trying to think about the record that much. I just wanted to keep it going and keep the train on the right tracks and help the team out. I believed that if I did my best, the goals and points would come.”
That was definitely the case, and Lehkonen believes it’s due in no small part to the lessons he’s learned from Frölunda’s veterans who’ve passed along valuable tricks of the trade, particularly on the mental side of things.
“I’ve had good role models with Frölunda. [Veteran captain] Joel Lundqvist might be the biggest. I’ve been looking up to him for two years, really getting the hang of what it means to be a professional athlete and being able to perform at your best every game,” said Lehkonen, who has a great deal of respect for Lundqvist’s pre-game routine and overall attitude. “He’s always ready to play. He gets himself pumped up before every game, just like it’s Game 7 of a playoff series. That’s something I really admire. I want to take that from him and follow that in the future.”
He’ll have the chance to put that mindset – along with his many other top-quality attributes – on full-display for the Canadiens’ brass when training camp opens in September. Lehkonen insists he isn’t the same player head coach Michel Therrien and his staffers saw at Development Camp last July, and he’s motivated to show it from the opening practice session onward.
“I’m a lot stronger than the last time people [in Montreal] saw me. I’m going to have a lot more battle strength [along the boards]. That’s the biggest difference that you’re going to see,” said Lehkonen, who has also benefitted from the advice and guidance of Canadiens European scouts Hannu Laine and Christer Rockstrom while plying his trade overseas. “I want to be showing a high compete level. I want to be putting my strengths out there, showcasing my offensive game and really fighting for a spot. That’s the biggest thing.”
Needless to say, the prospect of potentially calling Montreal and the Bell Centre his hockey home five months from now has Lehkonen smiling bright. Having played there as the Finnish captain during the 2015 World Hockey Championship, he already fully appreciates the magic that a building like that affords both players and fans all season long.
“It was a pretty awesome feeling playing against Canada [in the preliminary round] at the Bell Centre and scoring a goal. That was quite nice. The crowd didn’t cheer when I scored, though,” cracked Lehkonen, referencing his second-period marker on fellow Canadiens prospect Zachary Fucale in a 4-1 loss on December 29, 2014. “It’s an unbelievable rink. I really hope I can play there one day soon. I love it. I’ve been dreaming of it since the moment I got drafted. It would be a really big thing, for sure.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Canadiens agree to terms on a three-year contract with forward Artturi Lehkonen
Labor of love
Hab at heart - Chuck Comeau
Goal in mind