The injury to Artturi Lehkonen will be a tough one for the Colorado Avalanche to overcome. Without Gabriel Landeskog around, Lehkonen has filled the role of Nathan MacKinnon’s “skilled worker” on the top line. He digs pucks out of the corner, crashes the net, scores goals, and always battles defensively.
But fear not, Avalanche fans. While it’s likely his regular season is over because of a broken finger, do you actually think a guy like that can be kept out of a playoff game? I doubt it. He’ll probably be back this season, and he’s locked up for four more years after this one.
Why is he so good at what he does?
“He works. He’s an extremely hard worker. Extremely hard worker,” Bednar said.
Not only is Lehkonen a hard worker, but he’s got plenty of skill too. Before leaving the Montreal game due to injury, he broke the 20 goal mark for the first time in his career. Before that, he had already set career highs in assists and points.
So what does Lehkonen bring to the lineup for the Avalanche? Well, a little bit of everything.
Won’t Back Down
Lehkonen is listed at 5’11”, 179 pounds. Not exactly the biggest guy in the world. Colton Parayko has seven inches and 40+ pounds on him.
And yet, in this clip, the much smaller Finn doesn’t let Parayko overpower him. Instead, he just outworks him, pins him to the boards, and the Avalanche eventually break it out for a chance.
Two-on-One? No Problem
When the opposing team has their goalie pulled, that means they’ve got an extra skater on the ice to outnumber and outwork the other team.
Unless that player they’re trying to outwork is Artturi Lehkonen.
Here, he pins his man against the boards, and then battles both Stephenson and Karlsson for the puck. Guess who wins that battle? You already know the answer to that. It results in an easy empty net goal for Nathan MacKinnon.
A lot of players, whether they break their stick or give their stick to a teammate, stay on the ice and try to defend without a stick. That doesn’t really help anyone, as the opposing team can just take advantage of you like you weren’t even there.
On this play, Girard breaks his stick, and Lehkonen gives up his. Always the right move if a defenseman loses their stick. Rather than stay out with a broken stick, he goes to the bench and grabs a new one. The Jets, thinking they can take advantage of this, pass it cross-ice to what would have been Lehkonen’s guy.
A new stick in hand, Lehkonen races back, picks off the pass, clears the puck, and everyone can change. Just a little display of his high-end hockey IQ.
Body on the Line
There’s not much to say about these two. He will put his body on the line for the team again and again, all over the ice.
Stronger on His Stick
The Avalanche eventually won this game, but spent some time in their end in overtime fighting for their lives. That’s what happens against the McDavid’s and Draisaitl’s of the world.
On this play, Lehkonen gets into a battle with every single player on the Oilers. He loses the first one, and seems to just get stronger from there. McDavid tries to go through Lehkonen, and he’s not having it. He stands up the superstar and kicks the puck away. When Barrie tries to come in to retrieve it, the 27 year old forward is stronger on his stick and gets it back to Rantanen to regroup.
The Avalanche went on to win the game not too long after.
Chemistry with MacKinnon
It’s not always easy to play with superstars, especially a guy like MacKinnon. Lehkonen understands his role on that line, and has developed a fair bit of chemistry with his center.
On this play, he sees MacKinnon coming up through the middle, and feeds him the puck. Once the shot is saved, Lehkonen’s initial instinct is to retrieve the puck, but he sees the superstar is going to get there first. He immediately heads for open ice. MacKinnon hits him, and Lehkonen uses Nichushkin as a screen for the goal. That’s just one of the 20 goals he’s scored this season.
Not only does he understand how to play with MacKinnon, but he has the skill to do it as well.
Net Front Presence
How many goals have the Avalanche scored with Lehkonen taking away the eyes of the goaltender this year? Too many to count.
This is just one example. First, he makes a great play at the blueline, by taking a hit to make a play, and somehow staying onside at the same time.
The rest of his shift is spent in front of the net. When he’s standing there, a defenseman is forced to stay with him. That leads to the goaltender having to look around not one, but two players. And here, Kahkonen isn’t able to do it, as MacKinnon shoots around the screen and scores the goal.
Does it hurt to lose Lehkonen for what appears to be the rest of the regular season? Absolutely, and the Avalanche will need to figure out a way to adjust in his absence.
But he’ll be back, and when he is, he’ll be back back out there, out-working every single player on the opposing team.