Mikko Lehtonen leaves KHL, Rangers should pursue him now
The KHL’s goals and points leader for blue-liners has terminated his contract and will pursue a career in the NHL. The left side defender could help the Blueshirts as we wait for K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist to mature properly outside the pressures of the NHL.
Mikko and Kaapo Connection
Mikko Lehtonen has some ties already to the New York Rangers as he played last season with the future of the franchise, Kaapo Kakko. He also played with Alexandar Georgiev in TPS a few years ago as well. If the Blueshirts go after the 26 year old, it would have to be to an ELC. Another added caveat is that he and Lias Andersson won a championship together for HV71.
Per our own CBA guru Steven Voogel, Lehtonen falls under rule 9.3c which states EU players are ELC eligible until the age of 27. Of course, being that he is an experienced top KHL player this would be just a one year deal for the full $925K.
The Rangers have been trying all season to see if they could find an appropriate Finnish fit to help Kakko transition. Before Toronto opted to go the cheap route for goaltending a trade involving Georgiev and Kasperi Kapanen was rumored to have been discussed. Now the Rangers have the perfect option that fits exactly what the Rangers need to do.
The left side defender would stabilize the bottom pair and provide some offensive punch on the PP. Should the season restart as it appears it will, signing Lehtonen now and burning the ELC right away is fine. He would be an RFA immediately once the season concludes and the Rangers could offer him at least another 1 year deal before he is eligible for unrestricted free agency. That would likely be the best option because it would effectively end Brendan Smith on defense and allow time for Miller and Lundkvist to develop. It also keeps Fox or DeAngelo on the right side where they have excelled this season.
Current rules state he would only be available for regular season games and not the playoffs because he was not listed as a reserve. Of course, the NHL has already discussed rule changes due to this unprecedented pause including expanding rosters to 30 players.
Note: Steven Voogel helped with the information in this article.
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