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Artturi Lehkonen out to make big move on smaller ice

Canadiens forward prospect hoping skills shine on North American surface

by David Alter / Correspondent

LONDON, Ontario -- Growing up in a hockey family in Piikkio, Finland, Artturi Lehkonen had access to a sheet of ice at an early age.

"My parents, in our backyard, froze the grass so we used to play on it," the Montreal Canadiens forward prospect said with a smile. "It wasn't smooth at all, so we would just goof around."

Lehkonen's father, Ismo, played professionally and is coach of Estonia's national team. Ismo become the biggest influence in Artturi's life, a driving force behind his interest in the sport and the offensive flash he has shown throughout his career.

Some of that was on display for the first time when Lehkonen, 21, got to show his skills at Canadiens rookie camp, and the 6-foot, 174-pound Finn was ecstatic about the chance to do it on the smaller North American ice surface.

"I just really wanted to show the [Canadiens] what I can do," he said. "I mean, I haven't really been able to do that before on this side of the world."

Lehkonen, selected in the second round (No. 55) in the 2013 NHL Draft, spent most of the recent rookie tournament here playing with forwards Michael McCarron and Nikita Scherbak. He had a goal and three assists in three games.

"I've always been a bit of an offensive player," Lehkonen said, "but in the last couple of years I've added a more well-rounded game where I even played [the penalty kill] in Sweden, so I know I can do that part as well. I'm more of a complete player than I was a long time ago. The offensive game is still fun, I want to score goals, for sure."

His performance didn't go unnoticed, with scouts keeping a close eye on his game.

"He played well. He's a guy who loves playing hockey," Canadiens director of player development Martin Lapointe said. "He's always on the puck. He has a good sense of the play, too. He's a good passer, a good skater. He showed us that during all of the games."

One thing is virtually certain: Lehkonen will not be returning to Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League, where he helped his team capture Swedish and Champions Hockey League titles. Lehkonen showed he can play in pressure situations, with 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) in 16 playoff games.

Frolunda coach Roger Ronnberg has publicly stated he didn't expect to have Lehkonen back this season. The North American ice is where the young forward wants to develop his game.

"I mean, if we would have lost last year in the finals it would stung a little bit," Lehkonen said. "But because we won, I do kind of feel like I finished the job over there and I'm ready to move on."

Lehkonen is trying to prove himself in training camp. As one of the older prospects, he has the experience of playing among a league of veteran players.

"You just have to live in the moment and what you do," he said. "I know what type of player I am and I know what I can do. If I play my own game, I can force their decision to go my way."

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