Is this guy the real deal? Opinions on Canucks 2022 1st-rounder Jonathan Lekkerimaki continue to fluctuate as the club prepares for the next NHL Draft this coming week in Nashville.
“I’m a goal scorer,” was Lekkerimaki’s answer to a similar question three different times when meeting the media after being selected 15th-overall by the Canucks last summer. “I’m a goal scorer.”
The soft-spoken Swede with the Finnish last name, his grandfather is from Finland, spent the last four seasons with the Djurgardens program in Stockholm. That’s when the fluctuations, Covid pandemic aside, began in earnest.
Prior to being picked by the Canucks, the right winger put up 35 points in 26 Swedish junior league games in 2021-’22. Lekkerimaki also managed seven goals in 26 games playing with men in the top professional Swedish Hockey League that season.
This past campaign appeared to be a roller-coaster ride. Playing in the 2nd tier pro HockeyAllsvenskan, the 5-11, 175-pound forward scored just three goals and nine points in 29 games. He then caught fire in the playoffs: Fifteen points in fifteen games to help his club get to the final game of the final round before losing.
Shortly thereafter, Lekkerimaki signed his three-year entry level deal with the Canucks on May 6th.
“Jonathan had a good run in the playoffs and gained a lot of valuable experience, but unfortunately his team fell short of its ultimate goal,” Vancouver Canucks General Manager Patrik Allvin said in his announcement.
Lekkerimaki arguably had the ‘best shot’ of all the high-end talent at last summer’s draft. He said then he prefers his wrist shot over his slapper.
‘One-dimensional’ might be one perceived knock against the lanky forward, but Allvin said last summer that he expected Lekkerimaki’s game to become more well rounded.
“I think he’s a lighter … I don’t want to put to much pressure on him, but I think he’s a lighter Lucas Raymond (Detroit Red Wings Swedish winger who finished his rookie season with 57 points in 82 NHL games) where he has the ability to be a play-maker and a goal scorer. I think that’s important.”
The Elite Prospects site agreed with that evaluation in their draft handbook.
“That shot may be the best of Lekkerimäki’s offensive tools, but it’s not the only one. He’s also a reasonably deft handler, with the skill to blend pass receptions into dangles, deceptive manoeuvring, and a sound mechanical base with the puck almost always handled in his hip pocket.”
Pros and Cons
Let’s start here: The kid is still only 18-years-old. He was drafted last summer as a 17-year-old as his birthday hits on July 24th, ahead of the cut-off that would have pushed him into the 2023 draft year. There’s still plenty of room for physical growth.
Lekkerimaki’s present hockey hero is Vancouver Canucks centre Elias Pettersson, who happens to be very strong on his skates for his build. Not surprisingly, Lekkerimaki is also fond of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who, even having worked with the Hockey Hall of Famers last off-season in player development, must seem a bit more mythical. Lekkerimaki was seven years old when the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.
“Yes, very great Swedes, and I am so proud to be part of this organization,” Lekkerimaki said at the time of his selection.
Ultimately, having a great shot is wonderful, but can the player “get to the spot” to get the shot off? Do they have the instincts and more importantly the guts to go to the difficult areas to find opportunities.
We’ll find out as this kid grows up. In the fall he’s either an American Hockey Leaguer, or more likely, back to Sweden to play in the top pro league (SHL) on loan to Örebro.