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Artturi Lehkonen Could Be Colorado Avalanche’s Most Valuable Forward in 2024-25 – Hockey Writers – Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche have plenty of firepower in their forward group. Even with a number of roster spots still to be filled, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are two of the best players in the NHL. Add in the possible return of Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin next season, and the team looks very strong.

However, the return of the latter two is a question mark pending next season. No one knows when (or if) it will return, and how good it will be is an even bigger mystery. That puts a lot of pressure on the forward depth heading into the 2024-25 campaign, and the guy Colorado may have to lean on in those early stages of the season is Artturi Lehkonen. He’s entering only his third full season with the team, but few forwards are more important to Colorado than the 28-year-old Finn.

The Avalanche Trade for Lehkonen Was a Steal

After playing his first five-plus seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Lehkonen dealt the Avalanche at the 2022 Trade Deadline as Colorado prepares for a Stanley Cup run and hopes to add depth going forward. Colorado gives up second-round pick and defensive prospect Justin Barron; the deal worked out swimmingly for the Avalanche, who won the trophy that spring. Lehkonen played in all 20 playoff games in 2022, scoring eight goals and recording 14 points.

Arthur Lehkonen, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/Hockey Writers)

The move worked out well for Lehkonen, too. Along with getting his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, he was awarded a five-year, $22.5 million contract extension. He followed that up with the first 20-goal season of his career in 2022-23. He had a career high of 21 points, 30 assists, and 51 points that season, despite playing in only 65 games. He was on track to match those numbers last season, but suffered a nagging injury early in the season that sidelined him for a long time.

Related: Canadiens Trading Lehkonen to Avalanche Saved His Career

Lehkonen returned after missing a stretch of games and managed to record 11 points in 11 playoff games this season. Not all trades work, of course, but this one is for Colorado. The draft pick the Avs sent to Montreal was in the second round of this year’s draft, and Barron has played sporadically with the Canadiens since the trade. He appeared in 92 games over two combined seasons in Montreal, scoring 30 points.

Lehkonen Has Some Question Marks

The injury that stopped Lehkonen for a large part of the season occurred on Nov. 7. after hitting Jamie Oleksiak of the Seattle Kraken. Lehkonen missed nearly three months, and scored just one point in his first six games back. He emerged as a constant after that, opening the play-offs with a goal in five consecutive games. However, with the season over, Lehkonen underwent shoulder surgery, and will likely miss part of the team’s training camp.

How Lehkonen reacts to the surgery is the most important aspect of Colorado’s offseason. Whatever they find at Landeskog’s will be welcome, no matter when you come back. Nichushkin has serious demons to fight, and may need an indefinite amount of time to work out his personal issues in the NHL’s player assistance system. The surgery isn’t a big deal, and all signs point to him returning to his old form, but Lehkonen’s consistency is crucial for a team that currently only has six players under contract.

Why Lehkonen Is So Important

The versatility that Lehkonen brings to the lineup is critical to Colorado’s success. He spent time on each of the top three lines last season. Most importantly, he doesn’t miss a beat when thrown in with MacKinnon and Rantanen. He has also been a major contributor on the power play, scoring 15 goals with the man advantage over the past two seasons. Only Rantanen (27), Nichushkin (26), and MacKinnon (22) have more for the Avalanche in that span.

Along with the unknowns surrounding Landeskog and Nichushkin, there is some uncertainty about the case in Colorado. The obvious superstar pieces are still in play, but Rantanen’s contract extension is imminent as he enters the final year of his deal. Will the team be able to bring back Casey Mittelstadt? Will some pieces be traded? Will they be able to extend Jonathan Drouin after his offseason? Most of those things will probably have to be resolved before July 1.

This time of year, every NHL team is concerned about depth. Colorado has put together some great memories over the past few years and wants to keep that momentum going. Salary may be their biggest enemy right now, but there are still plenty of pieces left to keep the Avs competitive. One of the most important pieces is that of Lehkonen. Unless there’s a big signing or another big move coming, Lehkonen will start the season at one of those key six wing spots – and maybe even on the top line with MacKinnon and Rantanen. They lost to the Avalanche last season, and it hurt them. This makes it imperative that he be ready to roll at the start of 2024-25 – as he will be the one to hold the top-six in place until the rest of the squad returns.

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