Artturi Lehkonen arrived at Family Sports Center early Tuesday afternoon as the Avalanche’s optional practice was winding down, and immediately began trying to match new teammates’ names to faces.
The Avalanche acquired the 26-year-old Finnish forward Monday from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for prospect defenseman Justin Barron, who had been playing with the AHL Colorado Eagles, and a second-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.
Early on, though, Lehkonen spotted a fellow Finn — Mikko Rantanen.
“Mikko’s pretty much the only one I know from the past,” Lehkonen said a little later. “We’re from basically the same hometown [Turku], so it’s nice to see a familiar face. I’ve known him since we were kids. It’s quite exciting.”
Lehkonen said he and Rantanen even had been teammates at times as kids.
“Mikko was one year younger than me, so he played ith my age group and I played with an age group higher,” Lehkonen said. “But there were tournaments when we played on the same team. I know him pretty well. We skate every summer together, see each other every week.”
Lahkonen was in his sixth season with the Canadiens when new GM Ken Hughes called and awakened him from his pregame nap — the Canadiens were to face the Bruins in Montreal that night — and broke the news.
“It was kind of weird emotions basically,” Lehkonen said. “I’d never gotten traded before. It was exciting, but then it was like, ‘What do I do now? I have to start packing.'”
At the time of the trade, Lehkonen had 13 goals and 16 assists in 58 games this season for the Canadiens, and he is playing under a one-year $2.3-million deal.
He also is coming off a surprising run with Montreal to the Stanley Cup Finals against Tampa Bay a year ago. He had the series-ending Game 6 overtime goal in the Cup semifinals against Vegas.
“It was like a French-Canadian holiday over there,” he said. “So I guess it was a special goal. It was the biggest goal I’ve scored in my career. It was pretty cool.”
He said that run to the Cup Finals — a run the Avalanche hope to better — was instructional.
“It’s not easy to get to the Stanley Cup Finals and it’s a long run, a long time that you have to play great hockey,” he said. “I just tried to learn from it last year basically and get another chance this year.”
His trade to Colorado on deadline was part of Joe Sakic’s desire to strengthen his bottom six forwards heading into the stretch run and post season. At 5-11 and 179, Lehkonen isn’t intimidating, but has a physical impact.
“I just try to bring my own-style game,” he said. “Be good at both ends of the ice. Kill Penalties. And pretty much do whatever the team needs me to do.”
Lehkonen can be a restricted free agent after the season, and the trading of Barron raised some eyebrows.
“Well, it’s the cost,” said Avalanche GM Joe Sakic, “and if we’re going to move a guy like Justin Barron, it would have to be for somebody with term and not just a rental. So we feel we accomplished that.”
The Avalanche face the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday night as the post-deadline transitional process continues.
One factor that has nothing to do with trades is that veteran defenseman Ryan Murray suffered a broken hand in the Monday night win over Edmonton. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar Tuesday said Murray will be out “weeks, not days.”
Terry Frei (firstname.lastname@example.org, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sportswriter of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His web site is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html
His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here