It’s tough to figure out where Mikko Lehtonen is best suited to play. In two-plus years in the SM-Liiga, the Boston Bruins prospect scored just 18 goals and 21 assists in 106 games. Despite being a teenager in the top pro league in his native Finland, his numbers were a little weak for someone with his offensive talents.
Still, the Bruins brought him over to North America and lo and behold, he blossomed offensively, scoring 51 goals and 52 assists in 150 AHL games over two seasons. We’ll forgive you if you think that the North American style of play agreed with Lehtonen. It was just a question of his maturation as a hockey player coinciding with his arrival in Providence.
By many accounts, Lehtonen did not adjust well to the North American style because the big rangy winger doesn’t play a physical style.
This year, he returned to Europe, but opted to play in the Swedish Elite League and his style of play seems better fit across the pond.
With 12 goals and 11 assists in his first 19 games with Skelleftea, it would seem that he’s better suited to the bigger ice surface.
At 23, he’s not typecast yet and he only signed a one-year contract in the SEL after not accepting the Bruins qualifying offer this past summer.
Lehtonen is an athletic winger with a good work ethic and solid defensive awareness. Despite his size, he’s an agile skater and plays a high-energy game that coaches love and opponents hate. He’s a good penalty killer because of excellent anticipation. In the Prospects Report, I described Lehtonen as a good support player. Think Jere Lehtinen Lite – but in a tall boy can.
This past summer, the Bruins signed some young talent such as Joe Colborne, Jordan Caron and Maxime Sauve, so even if he stayed in Providence, he might have struggled to get prime-time ice time there. He probably made a wise choice to move back to Sweden for one year and develop his game. He could still come back next year and earn a spot with the Bruins. He did well to give himself a new challenge and grow a bit as a player. Three years in a row in the AHL is probably not the best thing for a player.
Lehtonen is the Bruins third-round pick (83rd overall) from the 2005 draft, so they’re keen to develop him into an NHLer.
In his draft year, scouts predicted he would need to bulk up to be able to make a smooth transition to North American style. Well, depending on which source you believe, he might have not bulked up and he might have grown an inch or two taller.
In his draft year, he was listed as 6-foot-3, 191 pounds. Now, he’s listed at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and 6-foot-5, 196 pounds. How much he’s bulked up and grown might be a matter of perception or timing, but it doesn’t really matter because Lehtonen doesn’t really use his size well. He’s got decent speed and hands for a big man, but doesn’t work well in the smaller confines of a North American rink.
He has excellent anticipation and there were scouts who thought he had a pretty high upside when he was drafted. Don’t give up on him yet, but don’t expect him to come back to the AHL. If he doesn’t make the Bruins, he’ll likely keep playing in Europe. Nathan Horton is ensconced as the Bruins’ first-line right winger, but if Mark Recchi ever retires and the Bruins shed Michael Ryder’s salary, there could be an opening for Lehtonen.
Upside: 25-35-60, 50 PIMs