It was a great day when the Leafs announced the signing of defenceman Mikko Lehtonen.
While on the market, he was being described as the best defender in the KHL and the Finnish Bobby Orr which made this hockey market drool with excitement considering the team’s need for help on the blue line.
To make things even better, Lehtonen didn’t hesitate to speak about his willingness and comfort to play on the right despite shooting left. If there was a Jeopardy question for, “Best things for a Leafs left-shot defenceman to say,” that would’ve been the $1000 Double-Jeopardy.
Then the KHL started their regular season and ever since, Lehtonen has been putting up nothing but highlights with Jokerit.
The 26-year-old has 3 goals and 1 assist for 4 points in 2 games. All of his goals clearly show how warranted the excitement about Lehtonen was offensively.
Here’s the thing, we knew Lehtonen was offensively gifted at the KHL level. His third of the season was the more impressive of the three as he corrals the puck with pressure, uses his body to create space away from the attacker and skates low into the zone before putting the puck on net.
What we don’t know yet is how well he can defend. That’s what the Leafs need. What ever possible offence he brings to the table will be mitigated if he isn’t making the right plays on the ice and giving up high-danger chances.
Can he break the puck out? Can he break up a 2-on-1 or effectively take away the pass so the goaltender can make the save? Can he get back in time to support an odd-man rush? Does he use his stick to interfere with shooting and passing lanes? Does he box out the opposition in front of the net? Can he adjust to the quicker pace of hockey playing on a smaller rink where thinking time is reduced?
Those are the important questions for Lehtonen and the things we need to pay attention to while he continues his season with Jokerit.
The team’s next game is this morning at 11:30 AM EST against Ak Bars and I’ll be looking at those plays away from the puck. Fingers crossed that they’re just as good!
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