Kari Lehtonen is a Finnish ice hockey player who previously played for the Dallas Stars on the National Hockey League. He drafted as the second overall by the Atlanta Thrashers during the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Lehtonen became the highest-drafted European goaltender and the highest-drafted Finnish player in the National Hockey League history. In this article, we are going to know more about the career of Kari Lehtonen.
Kari Lehtonen was born in Helsinki, Finland, on November 16, 1983. From 2001 to 2003, Lehtonen was a player for Helsinki’s hockey club called Jokerit. During this time, Lehtonen managed to become SM League’s best goalkeeper for two times in a row and was hailed as the most valuable player in the SM League’s playoff round in 2002. Lehtonen’s achievement landed him a spot in the NHL draft, where the Atlanta Thrashers decided to draft him as the second overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Kari Lehtonen chose to stay with Jokerit for one more season before moving to North America to play for the Atlanta Thrashers.
During the 2003-2004 season, Lehtonen played for the Chicago Wolves, the Thrasher’s American Hockey League affiliate. However, the Thrashers pulled Lehtonen out for several occasions and played with four winning games with the team, where he managed to post one shutout. In those four games, Lehtonen managed to post a .963 save percentage and 1.25 goals-against average or GAA.
During the 2004-2005 NHL lockout season, Lehtonen spent his time with the Wolves and learning the North American playing style. After 57 games with the Wolves, Lehtonen managed to post a .929 save percentage, won 38 games, and have a 2.27 goals-against average. Before the 2005-2006 season, the Thrashers called him up and made him the team’s starting goalie. At the opening night of the 2005-2006 season, Lehtonen had a severe groin injury when he collided with Nathan Horton. The damage caused him to miss 35 games. In 2006, Lehtonen once again suffered an injury when he collided with Tampa Bay Lightning forward, Chris Dingman. Kari Lehtonen tried getting back up, but he sprained his ankle.
During the 2006-2007 season, Lehtonen managed to break the Thrashers shutout streak and set his career highs in every category. It was also during this season when he was signed as the endorser of AirTran Airways. In 2007, Kari Lehtonen became the leader of the Thrashers for wins by a goaltender with 49. That same year, he became the starting goaltender for the Thrashers during the team’s first Stanley Cup playoff game.
At the start of the 2007-2008 season, Lehtonen once again had a groin injury, and he missed 16 games before he returned in December 2007.
Career with the Dallas Stars
In February 2010, the Atlanta Thrashers Kari Lehtonen to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Ivan Vishnevskiy and Ivan Telegin. Before the 2010-2011 season started, the Stars signed Lehtonen to a three-year extension that is worth $10.65 million. On Lehtonen’s first season with the Dallas Stars, he managed to compile a 34-24 record with a 2.55 GAA
In September 2012, Kari Lehtonen signed a five-year contract with the Dallas Stars that is worth $29.5 million. In 2014, he made his first playoffs with the Dallas Stars, and two years later, Lehtonen managed to establish himself as the team’s primary goalie. During Game 7 of the second round in the 2016 playoffs, Lehtonen was pulled up after he gave up three goals during the first period. In 2017, Kari Lehtonen managed to earn his 300th win against the New York Islanders.