The Toronto Maple Leafs have announced that Finnish defenceman Mikko Lehtonen will be loaned back to KHL club Jokerit.
Mikko Lehtonen is a much-anticipated signing of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who agreed to a one-year entry-level contract with the team earlier in the off-season.
The left-shot blueliner was signed following an exceptional first season in the KHL, where he was named to the All-Star Game after scoring 17 goals and registering 49 total points in 60 regular-season games.
His efforts for Finnish club Jokerit saw him named Defenceman of the Month in November, December and January as he finished the regular season with the most goals, assists and total points of any defenceman in the best league outside of North America.
Generally viewed as the best defenceman in the league by season’s end, Lehtonen is expected to slot right into the Leafs’ top six defencemen thanks to the tight cap situation facing teams over the next couple of years.
With the NHL opting to hold the play-in round and playoffs between August and September, it means there will be a delay to the start of the 2020-21 season, which is expected to get underway in December, along with the AHL.
With so much time left between now and the proposed start of the new season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have determined that Lehtonen would be best served back with his former club, in order to play regularly and stay fit before eventually heading over to North America.
Allowing the former World Junior and World Championship gold medalist to return to the KHL is a sensible move by the Leafs, as he will be able to play top minutes in a highly competitive league, arguably putting him in a better position than his future teammates by the time he can link up with the team in training camp.
Keeping Lehtonen waiting would not do the team or the player any good and having him fit and raring to go from day one will allow the Leafs to see what he can truly achieve in the NHL right out of the gate and hopefully help solidify a defensive corps that has a few holes which still need to be addressed ahead of the new season.