MONTREAL - It's safe to say Artturi Lehkonen is already making a serious case for a roster spot with the Canadiens.
On Monday night, the 21-year-old Finnish forward was a clear standout in his preseason debut against the New Jersey Devils, leading all players on both teams with nine shots on goal and chipping in with four hits while logging 16:44 of ice time.
While Lehkonen didn't factor in on the scoresheet in a 3-2 loss at the Bell Centre - which didn't sit well with the ultra-competitive left-winger - he clearly enjoyed the experience of suiting up on this side of the pond for real.
"It was a lot of fun, for sure. You get inside the game pretty easily when you've got to battle. You find those duels that you've got to win in one-on-one situations. Of course, I would have wanted to win this game, although it's an exhibition game," said Lehkonen, who was featured on the Canadiens' top line with Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. "I think our line had a lot of opportunities to put the puck in the net, and I think we played pretty decent in that way. We just didn't put it in."
Video: Artturi Lehkonen discusses his first preseason game
That being said, Gallagher is certainly a fan of what Lehkonen brings to the table, especially his feistiness and willingness to go toe-to-toe with opponents far bigger than him all over the ice. It's a part of the game the Canadiens' No. 11 has taken pride in and perfected since making his NHL debut in 2012-13.
"He got in there and played hard. As a smaller guy, that's what you have to do. He's a fun player to watch and I like playing with him. It's just one of those things, as camp has gone on, we started off rough the first day, but we've been getting better every day here. He's a big part of that," praised Gallagher, before lauding Lehkonen's hockey IQ, too. "He's a smart hockey player and he picks up on things pretty quickly. He's a good kid. Hockey sense is something you can't really teach."
Head coach Michel Therrien has also been impressed with Lehkonen's effort through the first part of training camp, acknowledging that the former second-round selection has all of the makings of an NHL player already.
"We can all see that he has the rhythm to play at this level. That's what he showed us during practices and again in the game [against New Jersey]," shared Therrien, who had Lehkonen on the ice in multiple game situations, whether at even-strength, on the power play, or while the Canadiens were down a man. "He's very involved in a lot of the aspects of the game. I really liked his performance."
Video: Michel Therrien on the preseason game vs. Devils
Given the Canadiens' jam-packed preseason schedule in the coming days, Lehkonen will likely be given many more opportunities to put his skills on display in hopes of making his ultimate goal of being a full-time NHLer come mid-October a reality.
"The pressure is always going to be there to make the team," concluded Lehkonen. "You've just got to take hold of the moment and do what you do best."
So far, Lehkonen has done just that and opened up plenty of eyes along the way.