BROSSARD – If Artturi Lehkonen is all smiles these days at the Bell Sports Complex, there’s a good reason why.
Unlike the past two years, when Lehkonen was unable to hit the ice at Development Camp due to injury and illness, the 20-year-old finally has the good fortune of being in perfect health. Over the past three days, Lehkonen has participated in on-ice activities alongside 42 other prospects and invitees on the South Shore, something he simply couldn’t do since being selected in the second round, 55th overall by the Canadiens back in 2013.
“It’s really exciting for me to be able to get out there. I’ve been to this camp two times before, but I still haven’t been on the ice. Now, I’ve been out there three times. It’s really nice to get involved,” offered Lehkonen, who couldn’t ply his trade in front of the Habs’ brass in early July two years ago after suffering a wrist injury, before coming down with mononucleosis and dropping about 11 pounds as a result around the same time last year. “I want to show the coaches that I can still score goals.”
It should come as no surprise that Lehkonen’s focus these days is squarely on showcasing his scoring touch. Coming off a tough debut season with the Frölunda Indians in the Swedish Hockey League, the 6’0”, 174-pound left-winger is eager to demonstrate that ability to light the lamp first-hand, beginning with a strong showing on the South Shore.
“Of course I put a lot of expectations on myself in Sweden. I had a really tough beginning of the season and then I was going up and down, but towards the end of the season, I played really well. I got back into a rhythm and I scored goals. I found the rhythm again, I think,” mentioned Lehknonen, who put up eight goals and 16 points in 47 games in 2014-15 after making the move from Finland’s Liiga to the SHL on a two-year contract.
“It was a big change for a Finnish guy going to Sweden, but I’d been playing in Finland also against men, so the competition level wasn’t that different. But, the game style was a lot different,” shared Lehkonen, who went on to register three goals and six points in 13 playoff games for the Indians last season. “In Sweden, the guys are a lot more skillful and the ice surface is bigger also. That was a little bit different than in Finland.”
Fortunately, Lehkonen is already quite familiar with North American rinks, including those in La Belle Province. Having donned his nation’s colors most recently at the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship in Montreal and Toronto last December, the Piikkiö native is feeling right at home in his surroundings.
“Of course I was really pumped up to play at the Bell Centre. It was really nice. I only scored one goal [that tournament] and it was against Canada. That was pretty sweet,” offered Lehkonen, who captained a Finnish squad that fell to Sweden in the quarter-finals, ending his country’s bid for a second straight World Junior crown. “Maybe we felt the pressure a little bit because we were the defending champions and we had huge expectations. We were pretty loaded, but we didn’t start the tournament the way we would have liked. We lost to Slovakia. That was a really big loss for us, so it was a really tough time. I really wanted us to play well, but we couldn’t find the right pace. That’s what happens when you don’t find it. It’s such a short tournament that you need to get going quickly.”
Lehkonen didn’t let the disappointment of coming up short in Canada affect his play down the stretch overseas, though. That certainly caught the eye of the Canadiens’ director of player development, Martin Lapointe, who is pleased to see the talented forward back in good form.
“I spent 10 days in Frölunda and I saw Artturi play there. It’s great to see him healthy. A lot of people haven’t seen him play and perform. Marc [Bergevin] is happy to see him here and so am I. He wasn’t lucky the last few years. It was difficult for him to get going again after coming down with mono. But, he had a great finish to the year,” offered Lapointe, who is excited to see what the immediate future has in store for Lehkonen in 2015-16. “He’ll be in Frölunda again next season. We don’t know what will happen after that. I’m confident that he’ll start the year healthy and he’ll be healthy all year. It will be a big advantage for him. He’ll get physically stronger and we’ll see how he progresses.”
That’s exactly how Lehkonen is approaching things this time around, too.
“Seriously, I haven’t thought that far ahead yet,” concluded Lehkonen, referencing a possible jump to the pro ranks on this side of the pond come 2016-17. “I’m just going to focus on one season at a time.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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