Houston Aeros 1994-2013: Thank you for all the great memories and two decades of great hockey and entertainment.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Meet Your Aeros: Jeff Penner and Mikko Lehtonen

Huge thanks to Sarah Connors of Something's Bruin for giving us the low-down on the new boys in the system. While we almost certainly won't see Lehtonen this season, the potential is there next season.

Congratulations, Aeros fans! You have just become the proud owners of two former Providence Bruins - Jeff Penner, a five-foot-ten 23-year-old offensive defenseman from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Mikko Lehtonen, a six-foot-three, 23-year-old right wing from Espoo, Finland.

Penner shakes off a Springfield Falcon. Photo courtesy of SomethingsBruin.Net

As a Providence fan, where do I begin with these two?

Back in 2008-2009, great things were a-brewin' (har har) in Providence. It was Penner and Lehtonen's first full seasons with the team - Lehtonen was drafted 83rd overall by the Bruins in 2005 and had played four seasons in the SM-Liiga team in his hometown (the Espoo Blues) before coming to North America, and Penner had signed as an undrafted free agent in February of the year prior, after a solid season at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he received an honorable mention for the CCHA's 2007-08 All-Rookie team.

This wasn't your run of the mill Providence team, either - backstopped by Tuukka Rask, and including such future NHLers as Vladimir Sobotka, Johnny Boychuk, Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid, Byron Bitz, and Matt Hunwick, the team went 43-29-0-8 into the postseason. They made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, before finally losing to the Hershey Bears, the eventual cup champs. Through this run, Lehtonen lead the team in goals scored, and was fourth in assists. Penner lead the team's defensemen in points scored, proving his offensive prowess, and scored 11 points in the postseason.

2009-2010 went differently, and although Lehtonen headed to Sweden to play for Skelleftea for the 2010-2011 season, Providence's woes remain the same - inconsistent goaltending and lack of chemistry leading to numerous losses. Although Penner's points total actually went up between 08-09 and 09-10, they've dropped off considerably this year, primarily because he doesn't have much to work with as far as the team goes.

He found some success working with Steven Kampfer as a d-pair, which was fun to watch - Penner is not a big guy at 5'10, 191 lbs, and neither is Kampfer. Somehow having two little, speedy defensemen worked, though, which unfortunately ceased when Kampfer was called up to Boston. Although he hasn't been on the scoresheet as much, he and Kampfer are tied for the team lead in plus/minus, at +10.

Lehtonen is having considerably more luck scoring this year with Skelleftea; he actually leads the entire Swedish League in goals scored, and is second overall in total points scored. Coming from Providence, and before that Espoo, he was considered somewhat of a nobody when he arrived in Sweden, but has quickly won fans over with his skill. Despite having 56 points in 52 games, he's still only managed a +4 in the plus/minus category; last year with Providence, his defense (or lack thereof) was his downfall, as he lead the team in points but also in craptacular plus/minus, at -19.

Essentially - while there's no guarantee Lehtonen will leave his good experience in the SEL behind, in Penner, you're getting a fast, small puck-moving defenseman who just needs a good partner to work with. He's good on the power play and has been used on the penalty kill as well. He's appeared in two games for Boston, both in 2009-2010. About his skill and playing ability, GM Peter Chiarelli has said that Penner "needs to continue to get stronger and play more consistently."

He's a Minnesota Twins fan, is actually himself an identical twin, and is big on community service - he earned the P-Bruins' "Man of the Year" award last year for his contributions to the community in Providence. I'm sad to see him go, but there's a glut of small puck-moving defensemen in the Bruins' system right now - here's hoping he'll get an even bigger and better role on the Houston blueline.


FinnFan said...

Don't really see Lehtonen playing for the Aeros.
He is looking for a one-way contract after a massive season in Sweden.
So I would say that he most likely stays in SEL or heads to KHL.

Ms. Conduct said...

I agree. I don't know why he'd even bother coming over here unless he's just been bit by the NHL bug and wants to learn to play more defensively. I want him to bunk with Koivu all summer and learn from him. :)

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Anonymous said...

Ms. C...Can you explain why the Wild would take Lehtonen in a trade and not expect to ever see him, either in Minnesota or Houston? Just curious...I don't know how these things work.

Forecheck said...

Important to remember that - as FiInnFan hinted at - the Wild do not have Lethonen, they have his NHL rights.

What I have dug up this morning is that he basically quit the Bruins when he didn't get his way (much like Kalus did with the Wild)and signed in the SEL.

So the only way Lethonen will be in North America is if he wants to be. That means the Wild will have to offer a one-way contract. Why play in the AHL when you can stay home and make more money, too?

Ms. Conduct said...

Anonymous, they're basically taking a flyer on the guy. For one, the Wild have a lot of Finns, so maybe that entices him. The guy can score, but will he play defensively at all? Do they care if he doesn't if he can score like crazy? They can at least give him a look.

They're just rolling the dice.

I don't expect anything to come of him but if there's one thing the Wild have always struggled with, it's picking up elite scoring talent, because they always draft in the middle of the first round. Whenever they've had a high pick, they've picked up a Pouliot or whatever.

If you want to look at this trade as Khudobin for Penner and future considerations, that's probably more accurate. :)

Finnfinn said...

My sources are telling me that Lehtonen has just signed a one-year contract with Metallurg Novokuznetsk (KHL).

Finnofchange said...

Lehtonen denied this rumour today adding that NHL is still his top priority, but it would HAVE to be
a one-way contract.