Friday, July 30, 2010

Boston Bruins Prospects Series: #21 Mikko Lehtonen

Mikko Lehtonen, RW
6-3, 200
April 1, 1987
Shoots; Right
Boston's 3rd choice, 83rd overall in 2005 Draft
Signing status: Restricted free agent

Talent Analysis

Physical: Wide-bodied power forward has the size and strength to do a lot in this game, but is still filling out and hasn't yet learned to use his physical gifts properly. A substandard first-step skating ability and his top speed is good, not great. Although he has a long stride, he seems to be a lumbering skater who takes too long to get it in gear. Directional change is mediocre; turns more as opposed to stopping and moving in a different direction. Has been observed skating better and faster than in some of the games watched with Providence; is it a lack of ability or lack of hustle? Very good hands and shot; can score from the outside and in close. Wrist shot has a rapid release and is accurate. Decent passer, but the strength of his offensive game is in the finish. Defensive play is average to below average; struggles with assignments and sticking with his man, especially when the tempo of the play picks up. Not very physical and gets pushed off the puck too much for a player of his size and natural strength.

Intangibles: After spending two seasons in Providence, you can see why this first-round talent fell down to the bottom of the third round in '05: his intensity and work ethic isn't where it needs to be in order to keep a job in the NHL. Like most players, Lehtonen is a nice guy and talks a good game about putting in the work, but the fact that Rob Murray benched him in the playoffs two years ago after he led the team in goal scoring (28) in the regular season speaks volumes as to where Lehtonen's head and compete levels have been since coming over to North America from Espoo of the Finnish SM-Liiga in 2008. He's gotten a pair of one-game recalls to Boston, but one can only deduce that the coaching staff didn't see enough that they liked of him to give Lehtonen an extended look. This is a damning assessment when you consider the injury woes the B's had last season and the fact that jobs up front were up for grabs, but he wasn't able to secure one.

Boston Bruins 2010 Development Camp assessment
Did not attend

At one time, Lehtonen had the ability and upside to have an outside chance at being a top-two line forward in the NHL, but the skating and lack of fire has been his biggest hindrance and is why he's dropped out of the top-10 from where he was a year ago. Last season was an important test for Lehtonen, and he pretty well flunked it. He wasn't able to be the kind of consistent presence and difference-maker that Providence was desperate for despite ample opportunities to get it done. Sure, he didn't have much of a supporting cast, but the legitimate players find a way to get it done and make an impact. Lehtonen's best contributions have been fleeting at best. He's reportedly decided to play in Europe this year, and it wouldn't surprise if he were to give up his NHL pursuits with Boston altogether. Lehtonen has the skill to be a serviceable player in Europe, but without the grit and passion, he's simply not good enough to be much more than a solid AHL guy over here. Luckily for Boston, as a player picked in the late third round, a miss here isn't catastrophic and isn't the bad April Fool's joke (a play on his birthdate, folks) it would have been had they grabbed him in the first or second.

The Final Word
You don't want to write off a prospect with Lehtonen's physical abilities at age 23, but it appears to be where he's headed. He's just outside the top-20 because he could theoretically turn things around and his ability alone should have him higher even if it looks like he may be at the end of the line and is following the same path back to Scandinavian obscurity that former 1st-rounder Martin Samuelsson did five years ago. Lehtonen's been solidly productive in the AHL, but has also come off as soft and lacking in the drive that NHL coaches demand from players who can't get by on their talent alone. Boston's system and ethos do not appear to be a good fit for the affable but uneven Lehtonen, and he's on the verge of becoming a classic case study in what often happens to those players with impressive talent who fall down the draft board because of concerns about intensity and work ethic. He's not a bad guy, but the perception is that he wasn't willing to work as hard at improving his game that he needed to. And the fact that Boston gave him little opportunity speaks volumes to where they see him: icetime must be earned.

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