According to the team’s official Twitter account, the Maple Leafs have inked defenceman to a one-year, entry-level contract.
Welcome to Leafs Nation, Mikko!
The Maple Leafs have signed defenceman Mikko Lehtonen to a one-year entry level contract. #LeafsForever
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) May 4, 2020
Lehtonen, a left-handed defenceman who turned 26 years old in January, has spent his entire career playing in Europe. He came up through the Finnish system but has also played professionally in the Swedish Hockey League and the Kontinental Hockey League, for his home country’s Jokerit. He also had success with Finland internationally, helping his country win the World Juniors in 2014 and the World Hockey Championship in 2019.
Most recently, Lehtonen made a name for himself as one of the best names playing outside of North America with a huge season in the KHL. Lehtonen’s 17 goals and 49 points with Jokerit this season led the KHL in both goals and points among defencemen. He also led his team in scoring.
Lehtonen has managed to get out of his KHL contract with Jokerit a year early, making him the best European free agent available right now. Lehtonen is a bit of a late bloomer but the 26-year-old was the best defenseman in Europe during the 2019-2020 season. His 17 goals and 49 points in 60 games led all defensemen in the KHL by a wide margin. It was definitely a breakout season for him but he’s been developing steadily over the years, and there was a lot of NHL interest already after the 2019 World Championship tournament where he won gold and was named to the tournament All-Star team.
Lehtonen is also not just a pure offensive player who would be a liability defensively. He’s not a defensive stud but he plays an NHL level two-way game already. He is also a very good skater which obviously helps matters. He is expected to be NHL ready right away with no time needed in the AHL. Most likely he’ll start on the bottom pair and play on the second power play unit but he could work his way up to the second pair depending on the team he signs with. Jokke Nevalainen
And here’s some video footage of his play…
Mikko Lehtonen led all KHL defensemen in goals (17) and assists (32) in 60 GP pic.twitter.com/1oK30N2Fk3
— Future Of The Six (@FutureOfTheSix) May 4, 2020
It’ll be interesting to see where Lehtonen fits into the puzzle next season. As of right now, Toronto has Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin, Calle Rosen, and Martin Marincin under contract on the left side of the blueline.