Lehtonen looks forward to NHL debut

By Holly Gunning

Kari Lehtonen is like the kid who breezed through high school and never studied because he was so smart he didn’t have to. Lehtonen’s talent is so huge that he doesn’t need to do much besides make use of it, and he’s successful.

On the cusp of his NHL debut, the 20-year-old Finn will learn that it will take more than merely talent to succeed in the NHL. He’ll have to do all of the little things off the ice that will help prepare him for success. That process could begin as early as this weekend, when the Thrashers begin a series of back to back games.

The second overall pick in 2003, Lehtonen has spent his first North American season with the Thrashers’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, where he has posted an 18-12-2 record with a 2.30 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. On Sunday he had his third shutout of the year, a 28-save effort against Hamilton.

Chicago Wolves Coach John Anderson this weekend summed up Lehtonen very simply.

“He’s outstanding. I think if we work on his conditioning we’ll have him in the National Hockey League by the end of the year.”

Hockey’s Future spoke with Lehtonen following his 4-1 win over the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks on Friday night.

HF: How do you think your season has gone so far?
KL: Alright, some highs and lows. Then the injuries I got were not a good thing, but I think I’m doing alright.

HF: What is it specifically about the North American game that’s been the biggest adjustment for you?
KL: There’s more guys in front always. That’s maybe the biggest thing. I think my style fits pretty well here. I don’t have to change anything, so that’s good.

HF: The AHL has a longer schedule than the one you played in Finland last year. Do you feel worn down at all yet?
KL: No because I was injured for a month. That’s why I still have a lot of energy left.

HF: You’ve had three injuries this season, the groin during camp, then recently the concussion and the hamstring. Which was the worst for you?
KL: I think the concussion was the worst. It’s not good to have injuries in your head. I don’t know, these things just happen and there’s nothing I can do with those. It was just bad luck.

HF: One thing you’ve been working on down here is your stick-handling. How is that going?
KL: I think I’m doing alright. Some rinks in this league, there are some weird boards, like the puck bounced tonight [points to corner], so it’s not always good to go behind the net.

HF: How has it been working with (legendary Wolves goaltender turned goalie coach) Wendell Young?
KL: It’s been great. Wendell helps me a lot, especially mentally. He says some good things when I’m not playing well and that’s the most important thing that he’s helped me with.

HF: What else will it take for you to do well in the NHL, anything you think you need to work on, maybe the mental aspect?
KL: I think mentally I need to be more tough. Every night I need to play at the same level and that’s maybe the biggest thing. I hope I can have my chance this year or the next year. It’s going to be fun.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.