Getting to Know the New Kids on the Block

The trade deadline came and went, and the only deal made was a minor league move sending Anton Khudobin to the Providence Bruins in exchange for Jeff Penner and Mikko Lehtonen. After taking a few deep breaths to calm down the Wilderness, we like the deal. 

What we don't feel good about is our knowledge of the players. We know plenty about Borat. We know nothing about the new guys. We decided to ask an expert. 

Enter Sarah Connors of the Providence Bruins blog Something's Bruin. If you haven't read their site, you are missing out. A collection of great writers, providing everything you need to know about the Baby B's, and the relationship with the Boston parent.

Without further ado, an intro for our expert:

I've been blogging about hockey for three years, and am currently the Editor-in-Chief at Something's Bruin, where I primarily do AHL coverage. I'm a BU graduate and Editor at the Gloucester Daily Times. I also write at 93 North Hockey for general Bruins coverage. My life goal is to see all 30 NHL buildings; I'm currently sitting at 10. I travel more for hockey than for anything else, and my "sweetheart" team is the St. Louis Blues.

Make the jump to learn more about the newest members of the Wild organization. We promise not to make you sing Hangin' Tough.

Hockey Wilderness: What can you tell us about Jeff Penner that his stats don't show?

Conners:

Penner is just a solid, albeit little, puck-moving defenseman. He very much needs to build up his confidence and size; he's only 23 so there's lots of room for growth. He went on a pointless streak through a good chunk of the season, but this is not a very good Providence team in general, so I wouldn't be too concerned about his scoring slump. Give him a solid, smart partner and he can do a lot with the puck; when paired with Steve Kampfer earlier this year, both five-on-five and on the power play, he looked solid. Also fun fact: he's a twin. And a Twins fan. Chad Johnson (the Connecticut Whale goalie, not the football player) was his teammate during his one year at University of Alaska Fairbanks.


What can you tell us about Mikko Lehtonen that his stats don't show?

Mikko got a lot of flack here for being somewhat of a lazy player. He lights it up on the scoresheet but can't backcheck to save his own life. I can't tell if he's improved on that in Europe, or if his better +/- is just a result of him scoring more, but that was always his biggest issue. When he scores, it's usually very pretty; at the AHL All-Star Game, his move in the shootout was awesome (even though he failed). He has incredible speed and hands for a guy his size, it's just the laziness factor that kills him.

 

Are either of these guys NHL material?

Penner is, definitely. Again, he's young. They both are. Mikko might develop more defensively, or he might not, but Penner's got a ton of potential. His size will definitely work against him, but he has the work ethic to make the jump, for sure.


Why did Lehtonen jump back to Europe, and what do you feel it would take to get him back?  Will the fact the Wild have so many Finns help him at all?

Lehtonen went back to Europe because the team's depth at wing didn't mean he was going to crack the NHL anytime soon, and Providence struggled mightily last year. It's easy to see how the SEL, which is closer to home, would have been much more appealing, and he's currently owning the SEL in points scored. The only other Finn in Boston's system is Tuukka Rask, with whom Lehtonen spent a lot of time in 08-09 but wouldn't have seen for the entirety of 09-10. The fact that the Wild have a lot of Finns - especially renowned veterans - might actually be a significant draw for him to come back to North America.


Gut feeling - Was this a trade where the Wild wanted Lehtonen & someone else, or where they wanted Penner & someone else?

Penner and someone else. Penner is more likely to make an immediate impact, definitely, and while Mikko could potentially add a good bit of scoring to any lineup, the fact that there's no guarantee he'll return to North America works against him. My feeling is that the Wild said "hey, a good little puck-moving defenseman - throw in this guy that we might be able to work on as a little Finnish side-project and we're good to go!"


With Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask playing in Boston, does Anton have a chance in the organization?

Definitely. Not immediately, though, unless one of those two goes down to injury. If that happens, he's third in line for the position. There's no real competition for the Providence starting position right now; Providence currently has many flaws, but goaltending has definitely been the worst one. When Tim Thomas retires - which I do not even want to think about right now! - Khudobin should, if he stays consistent, be able to slide into the backup spot.


What type of game do these two players play?

Both are definitely more finesse players. Penner's size works against him in the scrappy department, and...Lehtonen is Finnish. :)



Has Penner's size ever been an issue?

It certainly hasn't kept him off the scoresheet. He was undrafted, but earned himself a pro contract after his first year at Alaska-Fairbanks, and has put up pretty significant numbers in the two and a half seasons he's spent in Providence since.

 

It doesn't look like Lehtonen was every given much of a chance in Boston. Any idea why?

Really, it's a function of Boston's depth at his position and his defensive issues; he was called up once, almost as an afterthought, much like Zach Hamill and Penner and a few other guys, for a throwaway game at the end of the season in 08-09, to rest some of the veteran players for playoffs; as I recall, the game ended 6-1....not in Boston's favor.


 Your overall thoughts on the deal?

Although I'm sad to see Penner go - he puts up points, is a good character guy, also does a lot of work with the community - Providence's pressing, ridiculous need right now is in goal. I'm really happy to get Khudobin, as I've only heard good things about him. I think the deal fulfills our needs on this end, and Boston doesn't lose too much - Lehtonen is a long shot. I also think that the emergence of Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski this season have somewhat buried Penner on Boston's defensive depth chart, so I hope this move gets him a better shot to crack an NHL club.

 

What I get from this is that Penner sounds like another Jared Spurgeon, and Lehtonen sounds like a project with a mix of Benoit Pouliot and Petr Kalus. Hopefully Mikko Koivu and Niklas Backstrom can help ground him a bit. He could be the steal of the deal if they can. If not... not much of a loss if Penner was actually the target.

Thank you, Sarah for your insight into these players. Be nice to Borat, he's a good kid.

Thoughts, Wilderness? Now that you know more about these guys, have your opinions changed at all?

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