MONTREAL - What is the primary reason behind defenseman Otto Leskinen's breakout season for KalPa Kuopio in the Finnish Elite League?
"Our head coach, Sami Kapanen. He let me play a lot of power play. I think that's the biggest thing," said Leskinen, who signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Canadiens on Tuesday. "He gave me a lot of ice time. He trusted me."
That's true. No player on KalPa's roster logged more minutes while the squad was up a soldier than Leskinen, and the 22-year-old blueliner certainly delivered the goods on the man advantage.
Of the 31 points (8g, 23a) the Pieksamaki native generated during the 2018-19 campaign, 17 points (3g, 14a) came while the opposition was short-handed. That equates to 54.8% of his overall point total.
If anyone in the Canadiens' fold is familiar with the undrafted free agent's power play proficiency, it's fellow prospect Joni Ikonen. He was a teammate of his with KalPa for the last two years.
"He was really lethal this year on the power play. He's good at passing it around and reading the game. His shot was really good this year. It was really good from the point, both his slap shot and his wrist shot. He scored a couple from there," praised Ikonen, of his countryman who finished tied for the team lead in power play scoring with Columbus Blue Jackets young gun Alexandre Texier. "At the end of the season, we were on the same power play unit. He made easy passes. He's a good passer from the point, too, and he just reads the game well."
Leskinen is also strong on his feet, according to Ikonen, which definitely helps his cause.
"He's a really good skating defenseman, really agile. His strength is with the puck. He's a good skater and a good playmaker," mentioned Ikonen. "He's good all around. He's a good offensive defenseman."
That being said, Leskinen realizes that he still has several aspects of his game to work on in the coming months to prepare himself for his move to North America.
"I think I still have to improve a little more at the defensive game," admitted Leskinen, who averaged 21:52 of ice time per outing. "I also need a little bit more power so I'm good in front of the net and in the corners."
While he hopes to earn a roster spot with the big club come September, he isn't about to put too much pressure himself with a busy summer ahead.
"I just want to show the best parts of my game when I get there," explained Leskinen. "I'll just be myself and play well with the puck."
A special message
Leskinen was at his home in Kuopio with his girlfriend when he put pen to paper and signed on the dotted line.
Shortly after the news broke, he even received a congratulatory text message from a former adversary in the Liiga ranks.
"It was Kotkaniemi. He texted me and congratulated me on the contract," revealed Leskinen, who met the Canadiens' pivot at Development Camp last summer.
No doubt seeing a few familiar faces upon his arrival in Montreal will surely help his cause going forward.
"It's always easier if you know somebody," concluded Leskinen. "I felt pretty comfortable there."