With wins in Calgary and Edmonton, the Montréal Canadiens four-game road trip through western Canada was already a success when they made their final stop in Vancouver.
The Canadiens fell to the Canucks 5-3 on Wednesday night to finish a .500 road trip.
Is it getting harder to trade Artturi Lehkonen or is it getting easier to trade him?
Lehkonen is the hottest Canadiens player not on the first line of the club. The Finnish restricted free agent has eight points in his last five games with six goals. He now has 13 goals on the season after counting in the first period and the second period in Vancouver.
That would seem to make it easier to trade him. The asking price is expected to be a first-rounder which seems rich for a player more known for his complete game than his goal scoring. However, he is playing so well this season it might just be a mistake to move him for a first-rounder.
If you extrapolate a first-rounder likely to be a pick between 20 and 30 of the draft, historically, you have a player that makes the NHL as a regular only 50 per cent of the time. The other 50 per cent, the player is a bust.
Lehkonen has one more season left as an RFA, so it is likely that he would also be worth a first-rounder next March as well, if he were signed just until he gained unrestricted freedom. However, it also has to be considered that instead of trading him, sign him long-term. Lehkonen is only 26 years of age. At that age, he can be a part of the future when the Canadiens are in the top half of the standings again.
On one hand, you take a chance that you nail that first-round pick and get a young and successful NHL player. On the other hand, you don’t. The best you can hope for likely, ironically, is a young Artturi Lehkonen. However, if Lehkonen is signed for four years at a reasonable price, you have a sure thing; not a 50 per cent thing.
To answer the question, it’s probably getting harder to trade Lehkonen, especially considering the club seems to be closer to being a good team overall than they did three weeks ago.
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One of the most improved players under Martin St. Louis is Jeff Petry. He was having a brutal season, but turned it around tremendously, finding the joy of the game again with the coaching change. However, it was Petry who made the biggest mistake in the game.
Petry was cruising through his own blue line area as the last man back, when he had his pocket picked by JT Miller.
That’s the wrong player this year to turn it over against. Miller took the gift, turned it into a breakaway, and ripped a perfect shot upstairs. Miller is better than a point-per-game player this year, and Petry took a chance with the mid-ice tangle. It was 2-2 at the time, so that was the turning point.
Vancouver deserved the win as well. They were the first team in the last nine that handled the Canadiens top line. Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Josh Anderson didn’t have any of that open ice or offensive zone dominance that has been their trademark for the last three weeks.
Caufield had one open look, but Thatcher Demko held firm, stayed big, and Caufield hit him in the chest with his shot. Caufield did get a late assist on a terrific pass to Rem Pitlick.
All in all, this was the first one that felt anything like pre-MSL as Montreal just didn’t have the same jump that they’ve had in the previous eight. They stayed competitive though, and kept it in doubt until the final minute, but this one Montreal didn’t carry the speed or momentum.
It was a good day for some of the pieces that the Canadiens are hoping will be a big part of the future. Jordan Harris won hardware Wednesday as Hockey East voted him the best defensive defenceman in the conference. The third-round draft choice finished his fourth season with the Northeastern Huskies with five goals and 14 assists for 19 points. The Huskies start their playoffs on the weekend when they take on Boston College in the quarter finals.
Then the moment of truth for the Canadiens organization and Harris: When the Huskies finish their playoffs in two weeks or less, it will be decision time for Harris whether he wants to play in Montreal. The Canadiens’ rights to him expire this summer. He will be free to choose a new path for himself, but the hope is that the Canadiens have smoothed some rough waters with Harris with the hiring of people he knows like Kent Hughes. The club could certainly use his skills on their thin blue line.
Jesse Ylonen seems to be getting more comfortable with North American hockey. The second-rounder scored twice for the Laval Rocket on Wednesday night as they powered their way to an easy 7-2 win over Rochester. Ylonen has three goals in the last three games. Overall, Ylonen has 12 goals and 14 assists in 38 games in the AHL this season.
It is Joshua Roy though who is really thrilling fans with what he may become at the NHL level. The fifth-round draft choice taken 150th overall is a scoring machine for the Sherbrooke Phoenix this season. Roy with his 29th goal of the season on Wednesday night to move to 79 points in 41 games. Roy leads the Quebec Major Junior League in points.