When I wrote about Aleksander Barkov, I mentioned the possibility of an increasing gap in quality between the NHL in the SM-liiga. Barkov had a huge offensive season in Finland, but if the league isn't at the same level relative to the NHL as it once was, then a huge offensive season isn't worth what it once was. Of course, in Barkov's case, scouts are also universally impressed. Even if the league has gotten a bit farther away from NHL competition, Barkov's got an imposing physical presence, is putting up these offensive numbers as a 17-year-old, and is scoring while showing off an impressive mind for all facets of the game. But what if Barkov scored just a little bit less, and had size and strength as a major negative instead of a major positive? Welcome to Artturi Lehkonen.
Corey Pronman's description of Lehkonen's two main drawbacks is helpful: "He possesses every desirable tool except size.... One additional area of concern: he suffered from concussion issues this season." The concussion issues are a pretty serious concern. He seems to have suffered the first concussion early on during the year, probably on September 27th when he played just 3:13. If that's the case, it seems that the concussion wasn't particularly serious as Lehkonen missed just one game before returning to the lineup with two goals in a game on October 5th. The second concussion came as the result of a late hit by Jarkko Ruutu on February 16th, which led to a three-game suspension for Ruutu and a health care worker calling child protection (if the YouTube description is to be believed); it also led to Lehkonen missing six games before returning to the lineup for the last two games of the regular season on March 9th. His performance didn't seem to suffer after either concussion, so it's tough to say whether or not that should be a major concern.
As for his actual offensive output on the year, Lehkonen was excellent. In the last thirty entry drafts, just thirteen other players (will be fourteen with Barkov) have been taken out of the SM-Liiga with one of the first thirty picks, and like Barkov, Lehkonen is near the top of that list:
One very encouraging thing about these numbers is their sustainability. In 45 regular season games, Lehkonen scored 14 goals on 192 unblocked shots (the SM-liiga counts shots on goal and missed shots together), which resulted in a shooting percentage of 7.3% (48th out of the 116 forwards with at least 100 unblocked shots). His 192 shots placed him 46th in the league in the category, an amazing result for a player of his age. Barkov, by way of contrast, finished 69th in unblocked shots with 167, but scored 21 goals for a shooting percentage of 12.6% (3rd out of the 116 forwards with at least 100 unblocked shots). Lehkonen was also able to put his offense together in fewer minutes (15:40 per game compared to 19:31 per game for Barkov). I wouldn't go so far as to say that Lehkonen is equal offensively to Barkov, but the gap is smaller than the numbers above suggest.
Lehkonen's performance in other places also suggests a top-notch offensive player. He had the second best offensive Draft -1 season in the history of the Finnish U-20 league (behind only Mikael Granlund), and he led Finland's team in scoring in each of the last two World U-18 tournaments, finishing in the top five in overall scoring both times. That kind of consistent production is something I find very attractive, and is the main reason I've got Lehkonen ranked higher than most.
Next up Monday morning: CHL Relative Plus/Minus
My Draft List:
1 - Nathan MacKinnon (Comparables)
2 - Jonathan Drouin (Comparables)
3 - Seth Jones (Comparables)
4 - Aleksander Barkov (Comparables)
5 - Elias Lindholm (Comparables)
6 - Valeri Nichushkin (Comparables)
7 - Sean Monahan (Comparables)
8 - Rasmus Ristolainen (Comparables)
9 - Darnell Nurse (Comparables)
10 - Anthony Mantha (Comparables)
11 - Max Domi (Comparables)
12 - Hunter Shinkaruk (Comparables)
13 - Ryan Pulock (Comparables)
14 - Artturi Lehkonen
15 - Alexander Wennberg (Comparables)
16 - Kerby Rychel (Comparables)
17 - Nikita Zadorov (Comparables)
18 - Josh Morrissey (Comparables)
19 - Frederik Gauthier (Comparables)
20 - Bo Horvat (Comparables)
21 - Adam Erne (Comparables)
22 - Curtis Lazar (Comparables)
23 - Andre Burakowsky (Comparables)
24 - Robert Hagg (Comparables)