Featured

Maple Leafs Trade Mikko Lehtonen, Acquire Veini Vehviläinen

|
Image for Maple Leafs Trade Mikko Lehtonen, Acquire Veini Vehviläinen

The Toronto Maple Leafs have traded defenseman Mikko Lehtonen to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for goaltender Veini Vehviläinen.

I… did not see this coming. Let’s take a closer look.

Mikko Lehtonen

I’m not gonna pretend that Mikko Lehtonen is bad. He is a very good grab for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Lehtonen came out of the KHL as a super highly-touted free agent. In just his first season in the KHL, he dominated, leading all KHL defensemen in goals, assists, and points.

Lots of teams were in on him, with teams like the New Jersey Devils jumping in as the frontrunners.

And then, almost out of nowhere, it was announced that the Leafs, who weren’t even in the conversation before, had signed him.

My logic when they had signed him was simple, and I’ll link the article here.

The Leafs are a very offensive team. By signing with the Leafs instead of a rebuilding team, he puts himself at less risk of failure. The idea was that he would thrive in this system.

And then a few things happened.

  1. The Toronto Maple Leafs landed TJ Brodie in free agency.
  2. Zach Bogosian is a lot better than most thought he would be.
  3. Travis Dermott is way too good to consistently scratch.

As a result, while he did get some games in, it became clear that he was the odd one out.

Mikko Lehtonen Scouting Report

Look. People don’t just give the nickname “The Finnish Bobby Orr” to anyone. Mikko Lehtonen is the real deal. He has a great shot, amazing vision, and he’s a fantastic playmaker. Lehtonen is able to move the puck very comfortably, and even in his rookie NHL season, he could do well on the PP2.

A few things are working against him, though.

The first is that he’s just not being given enough time to adjust to the North American ice. He’s very clearly not comfortable enough to make his mark. He wasn’t exactly known for his defensive play in Europe anyway, so it became almost a liability in the NHL.

When the Leafs sent him down, I liked the move. He would’ve dominated the AHL, regaining confidence while also being allowed to work on his game without the pressure of the NHL.

It sounds like he didn’t feel the same way.

In Columbus, Lehtonen could actually fight for 2nd pairing minutes. I said he could do that in Toronto, but I feel as if Lehtonen has a better shot at overtaking Gabriel Carlsson or Vladislav Gavrikov. He could really spark an offense for a team that sorely needs it.

It doesn’t hurt that the GM (Jarmo Kekalainen), the starter (Joonas Korpisalo), and the young star (Patrik Laine) are all Finnish.

Best of luck to him.

Veini Vehviläinen 

Vehvilainen is the definition of a wild-card here.

Drafted in his final year of eligibility in 2018, Vehvilainen came out of Finland as a strongly hyped prospect.

Vehvilainen was named the Liiga’s Best Goaltender…

Twice…

At ages 21 and 22.

Those weren’t just flukes. Veini Vehvilainen was making an impact as early as age 18, putting up a .925 SV% in 28 Liiga games in his draft year. He’s starred at the World Juniors. His trophy cabinet has WJC Gold, WJC-18 Silver, World Championship Gold, the Finnish league championship, and more.

In other words, he’s no slouch.

However, this year, in particular, he’s had a really tough time in the crease.

His numbers on loan in Finland may concern some. Going 3-7-3 with a .896 was completely unexpected.

Until you realize he was playing behind the youngest team in the league. As @Breeguy_ pointed out, the team has a defense corps full of prospects adjusting to the pros. JYP is near the bottom of the Liiga standings. In fact, Vehvilainen’s .896 SV% is the best of out any of the three goalies that have appeared in a game for them this season.

His .750 SV% in the NHL looks rough, but he was coming in for Joonas Korpisalo, who had let in 4 goals on 22 shots. Vehvilainen let in one rough goal on four shots, but the end score was 5-0, Dallas.

He had a bit of a rough rookie AHL season, but that’s normal for younger goalies, especially considering the quality of the team in front of him.

At 24, I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that Veini Vehvillainen is the heir to Frederik Andersen’s throne. Instead, he could be a very decent pickup. He’s a bit of an undersized goalie at 6’0, but he has proven that he has the ability to perform in big games and in strong leagues.

Veini Vehvilainen is on the second year of his ELC and will expire as an RFA. I’d expect him to get a cheap 1-2 year bridge to allow Vehvilainen to develop further.

The Fit

I went over this a little earlier, but Mikko Lehtonen might face the same issues he did in Toronto in Columbus. Gabriel Carlsson has looked pretty good this year in what could be his first full NHL season. Vladislav Gavrikov had a very solid rookie season last year. He might not be performing as well as he wants to, but does his play really merit scratching him?

It’s going to be another uphill battle for Lehtonen in Columbus, but I think his offensive prowess will really benefit him there. He’s also still waiver exempt and carries a $925,000 cap hit at the NHL level.

Veini Vehvilainen makes things a little interesting in Toronto. The team expected to have Aaron Dell safely in the 3rd string position. However, with Dell claimed on waivers and backup Jack Campbell injured, prospect Joseph Woll was forced to stay on the taxi squad.

Woll hasn’t been able to begin his second professional season yet, and he’s looking to bounce up from a rocky rookie season behind a very rough Marlies team.

Down with the Marlies… the goalie situation is a hot mess.

Local goaltender Andrew D’Agostini was brought in having never played an AHL game at the age of 27. In fact, he was on the brink of losing his spot on the ECHL goalie carousel after a rough season with the Brampton Beast.

The guy that was supposed to be next in line, prospect Ian Scott, hasn’t played hockey in almost two years due to hip surgery and the pandemic. He’s now out with a groin injury.

D’Agostini has been a pleasant surprise, but he’s played every single game for the Marlies so far. All twelve games.

Behind him for most of it was Kai Edmonds. Edmonds is a promising long-term prospect, but he hasn’t averaged over a .900 SV% in any of his three OHL seasons so far (which isn’t bad, but you need to be very good to transition to the AHL after three junior seasons). Edmonds has played 20 minutes, stopping all three shots faced in relief. Still, starting him would be like throwing a kid to the wolves. The 20-year-old is on an ATO and is expected to return to the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads when their season starts.

The Marlies ended up bringing in Angus Redmond. Redmond was a familiar face. He went 16-2-0 with Toronto’s ECHL affiliate in Newfoundland last season. This year, he was doing very well, with a .923 in two games with Kansas City of the ECHL this season.

They put him in relief for D’Agostini last week… he let in one goal on one shot in five minutes. He’s achieved the glorious .000 save percentage.

D’Agostini has a .892 SV% in 12 games. He’s not terrible, but behind an already weakened AHL team, he can’t keep doing this.

Finally, the Leafs have brought in someone that can not only bump Joseph Woll back to the AHL but someone that can support him there.

It does worry me when it comes to the state of Jack Campbell and Ian Scott, though.

Woll was very briefly sent down to the Marlies, set to start for them, before being promptly called back to the taxi squad. Teams need three available goalies on the taxi squad and the main roster combined. My guess? For what feels like the millionth time, Jack Campbell was ruled out on game-day.

I doubt it will take longer, but the worst-case scenario here is that the Leafs are preparing to give Jack Campbell more time to recover while making sure their top goalie prospect doesn’t have to languish in the press box (which isn’t actually that bad of a situation).

As for Ian Scott… I don’t know. I can say one thing here. Whenever Scott comes back, it won’t be directly to the AHL. I held out some hope earlier in the season, but the Leafs are going to have to look into a loan situation whenever he comes back. Scott was ruled week-to-week with a new injury when Marlies training camp started almost a month ago. We’re heading on week-to-week-to-week-to-week without an update!

This trade is one that looks minor but opens questions on both sides. For the Blue Jackets, where are they going to fit Mikko Lehtonen? For the Leafs, what exactly do they see in Veini Vehvilainen?

I’d compare this trade to the trade that sent Josh Leivo to Vancouver a couple of seasons ago. Dubas made a promise to Leivo that if he didn’t get a roster spot, he’d be traded. As soon as it was made apparent that Leivo would (again) not make the team, he was traded immediately for what many assumed was less than he could’ve gotten (prospect Michael Carcone, who was later thrown into the trade that brought Cody Ceci to Toronto).

It was probably the same for Mikko Lehtonen. He was probably promised a shot to make a huge impact on the roster, and it didn’t come to be. Rather than taking their time to seek out better offers or to just ignore the request, he was traded immediately to what I can only assume was a Lehtonen-approved home.

Poor asset management? Maybe. A sign of what makes Kyle Dubas’ Toronto Maple Leafs a desirable place to sign? Definitely.

I’m just going to end by saying this. Overall, this is a deal that can be simplified as a 7th defenseman being traded for a fourth-string goalie. There’s no need to overreact. However, the implications make it interesting. I’m very excited to see how Veini Vehvilainen looks in Toronto. 

First, Vehvilainen will need to obtain a Canadian work visa and quarantine to come to Toronto.

The Leafs play their next game against the Winnipeg Jets on March 13th, at 7:00pm EST.


Follow me on Twitter at @MagicianMarner and follow us @OT_Heroics for more great content!

Featured Image Credit:

Embed from Getty Images

Share this article

Spencer White is an Editor of Hockey at Overtime Heroics. He writes about hockey, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Marlies, Newfoundland Growlers, and the Toronto Six. You can find him on Twitter at @FreeNylander, @MagicianMarner, and @LeafsMoves.