Canadiens Review of Artturi Lehkonen Trade, One Year Later
When the Montreal Canadiens traded Artturi Lehkonen to the Avalanche at the 2022 Trade Deadline fans were uncertain about what to make of the return.
The Canadiens retained half of Lehkonen’s salary in the deal, receiving first-round pick Justin Barron and a 2024 second-round pick as compensation.
Lehkonen famously went on to lift the Lord Stanley’s trophy by scoring the Cup-clinching goal for the Avalanche that spring, while the Canadiens geared up for an earnest attempt at a rebuild.
Now that the dust has settled on the trade, we have a much better idea of the value the Canadiens received for trading one of their hardest-working players.
Kent Hughes and Co. made it clear they were interested in acquiring a player like Barron for one specific reason.
Yes, he has great skating and a fantastic shot, however, most importantly, Barron plays on the right.
Logan Mailloux and Miguel Tourigny can play on the right, though it’s far from certain either will make the jump to a full-time job in the NHL any time soon.
In that sense, Barron represented a potential fix for what could become a significant area of weakness for the Canadiens if it were to be ignored.
He also has the potential to become a powerplay quarterback, yet another area of weakness for the team, albeit one with a few more candidates in play. Mike Matheson, Kaiden Guhle, and Jordan Harris can all distribute the puck on the power play and have done so in the past, however, none of them possess the type of shot from the point that we’ve seen from Barron.
Not only can Barron connect with one-timers, as we saw repeatedly in the AHL, but he also has an affinity for getting pucks to the net, not to mention his penchant for taking advantage of open ice created on the rush to unleash his great wrist shot.
His offensive prowess has been on full display from the moment he was called up from the Rocket, which, as an aside, goes to show the value of not rushing prospects and allowing them to develop in the AHL.
With 1.44 points per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time, Barron currently has the best scoring rate among all Habs blueliners.
Barron’s goal tonight, what a pass by Suzuki pic.twitter.com/NZij8IYQVd
— Habs Fan TV (@habsfantv_) February 22, 2023
Weaknesses & Strengths
Barron does have a few red flags in this game.
He can succumb to forecheck pressure, which leads to poor decision-making. If there are no clear outlet options, there’s a decent possibility Barron will become flustered.
Whenever he has to drop his head to locate or settle down a puck, there’s a brief moment in which he forgets there’s a very short shelf life for inertia in the NHL.
MacDonald's first goal in TEAL!! 🚨🦈 pic.twitter.com/xPPjlBcN1B
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) March 1, 2023
However, for the most part, the good outweighs the bad when it comes to Barron’s puck-moving abilities.
He’s great in transition and has the type of speed and creativity to join the rush and make a positive impact. When he’s on the ice, the Canadiens tend to generate more shots relative to the output they enjoy with other defenders, which supports the argument he’s a valuable offensive defenceman.
But he also makes a positive impact relative to his teammates when it comes to allowing shots on net per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time(-6.06). The only other defenceman that does a better job is Johnathan Kovacevic, and barely so (-6.09).
Lehkonen Litmus Test
Given Barron’s recent emergence and the fact that the Canadiens still have a 2024 second-round pick in their back pocket, it’s fair to say the Lehkonen trade could provide a fantastic return on investment.
It’s also fair to say the Avalanche have already won the trade, so to speak, seeing as they have already lifted the Stanley Cup thanks to dominant performances by Lehkonen.
We must remember, the ultimate goal of any professional sports team is to lift one particular trophy at the end of the season.
In that vein, it’s important to remember why smart teams target players like Lehkonen, who was oft-maligned in his tenure with the Habs due to unrealistic expectations from people who failed to see the forest for the trees.
When prompted to give a quote on former Canadiens forward Lars Eller, who was also harshly criticized in his time with the Habs, and also quickly went on to win a Stanley Cup with another team, head coach Martin St-Louis discussed the value of having players with their unique skillsets on an NHL roster.
“They’re 200-foot players. They add a lot of value to their lineup. They got Lehkonen last year, but those are two players who can play everywhere, can kill penalties, can provide offence, and don’t miss many assignments.”
Unlike puck-moving defencemen such as Barron, who will undoubtedly make mistakes since their role involves regularly carrying the puck, players like Eller and Lehkonen provide a certain level of reliability, especially when the game is on the line.
In other words, they’re a coach’s dream.
Smart teams value the Lehkonens of the NHL, and with good reason.
Criticizing a player like Lehkonen for not capitalizing on every scoring chance isn’t just bad analysis, it’s lazy analysis, seeing as it ignores the most valuable aspects of his game.
And while the trade that sent Lehkonen to the Avalanche may end up bearing fruit for the Canadiens, the lesson learned following the trade may rival the eventual returns.
When building a team that lacks offensive punch, it’s important to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Not every player will score 30 goals per season, and it’s unrealistic to expect defensive players to attain such goals. They insulate stars, allowing them to perform at their highest level.
And once in a while, as was the case for both Eller and Lehkonen, they clinch Stanley Cup victories for their teams.
All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick.
Marc, I am so impressed with how hard you work. I read you more than any other writer and think of you as the base knowledge needed to follow the Habs (and occasionally write a column for Habsworld). You hit this one on the nose. The team is obviously a work in progress and next season will be more of the same with hopefully an uptick in growth and results. In looking at next season the deadwood contracts seem like quite the challenge to management. Some of these players seem untradeable, but others (youngbloods) might be lost to waivers unless room is made for them. Defense seems handelable with 8 legit NHL talents and Mailloux and Wideman in Laval. One more than needed but someone will get injured. It’s on offense that the crowd seems insane. Should Slaf go to Laval and join Beck and Roy on a great line? There are 16 NHL forwards not counting Gurianov. How will this be solved?
Allan, I’m sorry about the late reply, but I do want to thank you for the kind words. Much obliged.
I hold Habsword in very high esteem, so I am extremely humbled by your compliments.
If I may, can I address your question in a long-form article at some point between now and the Draft?
It’s a very interesting subject that merits more coverage.
Thanks for commenting, and speak to you soon.
If we could add another Lane Hutson quality prospect with the 2024 2nd rounder and Barron continues on his current development path to become a potential top pairing Dman (or top 4 at worst) the Lehkonen trade will have paid off in spades. 🤞
I think you are under-estimating the other defencemen’s shots.. Didn’t Matheson win the hardest shot at 102.9 mph? But I think Barron is potentially a 20 goal scorer because he is very skilled when involved in the offensive zone…Speaking of defencemen, Logan Mailloux has a “Shea Weber” type of a slap-shot too…The future of the Habs’ defensive core is looking unusually bright..
To me it’s the fact that Barron is both an RD (a position of real need on the Habs), and still young (which means that he can be developed towards his prime) that makes this deal so important for the Habs. The 2nd rounder is icing on this cake.