resim 135
resim 135

Two years ago to the day, Artturi Lehkonen delivered an undoubtedly energetic performance, but without offensive results, of 9 min 55 s in a loss to the Canadian in Calgary. It was his return to the lineup after he had been left out four games in a row, and he would also watch the next three games in street clothes.

Two years later, that same Lehkonen is the 11th most used forward in the NHL this season. He has already set a personal mark for points in a season (46) and is two goals away from reaching the 20 mark for the first time in his career.

It is this new Artturi Lehkonen who arrives at the Bell Center this Monday evening, along with his teammates from the Colorado Avalanche. This will be his second game against the team that drafted him 55th in 2013, but his first at the Bell Center in the visiting clan.

“It’s my first time in this locker room, the first time I’ve come through the other garage too,” he observed Monday morning after Avalanche practice.

Anyone who knows Lehkonen knows that he is not one to pour out his emotions for long minutes. In the visitors’ locker room, which is already the size of a 2 and ½ in the vicinity of your favorite CEGEP, the Finn was seated in the worst possible place for interviews, in the corner next to the door, behind a massive concrete column. “It was not my choice!” “, he swears.

Still, it was brief, as always. His memories of his winning goal in the conference final against Vegas in June 2021? “It’s among my best goals. It brings back a lot of good memories thinking about it. »

Number 62 is still a charismatic man with his teammates. Brendan Gallagher and Jake Evans have also pointed their noses near the players’ bench during training, to greet him.

As a player, he certainly left his mark. For Jonathan Drouin, it’s “his stick” that stands out the most when he’s on the ice. “On the forecheck, he’s able to intercept passes in the air, he was creating a lot of turnovers. You didn’t see him on the scoresheet every night, but when you looked at him up close, he’s a very useful player on a team. »

Except that in his last half of the season before leaving Montreal, we were just starting to see him on the score sheet. He had 29 points in 58 games, and picked up the pace in Colorado. In 77 season games with the Avalanche, he has 24 goals and 31 assists for 55 points.

“His impact is hard to measure,” Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said. He was a big addition last year and this season he is very competitive, very determined. He replaced alongside MacKinnon and Rantanen thanks to his forechecking work. He likes to go to the net and score ugly goals. He’s a very solid player on 200 feet. »

Offensively, circumstances helped him. The Avalanche have been plagued by injuries, which has allowed Lehkonen to play more, often alongside a certain Nathan MacKinnon, often on the first power-play unit. These days, he’s been playing more on the second line, with J.T. Compher, and with the second unit on the power play. His playing time is also more moderate and he has reached 20 minutes only once in his last nine games.

For a player whose forecheck is the main strength, isn’t he better served, precisely, to play 17 or 18 minutes rather than 23, as we regularly saw in November?

“We tried to watch it closely,” Bednar admitted. But with our injuries and the fact that we were fighting for points, we really had to rely on our best players. It can be difficult, with the style of some of them. So we managed their energy. Lehkonen is going to leave everything on the rink no matter what you use it for. »

Lehkonen won’t be the only Avalanche player to return to his old home. Good old Lars Eller will also be back, but it will obviously not be a first for him, who left in the summer of 2016.

At the start of the season, it would have been hard to believe that Eller was going to be traded as a rental player. With their core players in their thirties, the Capitals were thinking about the present, not the future.

“When you’re in the last year of your contract, you know that’s always a possibility. But when we had our six-game losing streak [in February] and they traded Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway, it became a very real possibility. »

The Dane, however, fell well by moving to the Avalanche, a team that could go a long way this spring if all its elements remain healthy. In Denver, he is back in his role as third center, a role he also held with the Capitals when they won the big trophy in 2018.

“We lacked left centers, players who could play shorthanded, who could counter the best opposing elements,” Bednar said. He has a good size, he is strong on the puck. He is a Swiss army knife, he can help talented players or within a defensive trio. »