What to make of Canucks first-rounder Lekkerimäki after a disappointing World Juniors

Jan 17 2023, 8:22 pm

The World Junior Championship can be an unruly beast of a tournament, not only for the level of play but also the magnifying glass trained onto the players taking part. For Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Vancouver Canucks’ most recent first-round draft pick, both were true.

Coming off a concussion at the end of November, the Swedish-born winger was already behind the eight ball walking into the annual tournament. A devastatingly slow start to his draft-plus one season with Djurgårdens IF, a team currently in Sweden’s second division, had soured many on the 18-year-old prospect.

That being said, a tournament where Lekkerimäki could play against peers of a similar age seemed like an excellent opportunity for him to flex more of his offensive muscle, flashing the higher-end ability that the Canucks banked on last June.

Fast forward to present day, Lekkerimäki is back with Djurgårdens IF, coming off four points in seven games with the Swedish under-20 team. He saw ice-time diminish rapidly as the tournament went on, even being benched as a 13th forward for one of the games. Power play time eluded Lekkerimäki, never cresting the one-minute mark across the seven games.

Opponent Time on ice Power play time
Austria 11:33 0:49
Germany 11:42 0:50
Chechia 16:22 0:51
Canada 15:13 0:36
Finland 5:36 0:48
Chechia 4:24 0:37
U.S.A. 11:55 0:51

A disappointing first look for many watching Lekkerimäki in game action for the first time; it wasn’t a tournament fans or evaluators would ever write home about, especially with other players like Jimmy Snuggerud and Jiri Kulich, fellow-first round picks in 2022, put forth convincing performances.

Nothing is ever so cut-and-dry, though. Contextualizing Lekkerimäki’s game is key to get the full picture of his performance, providing some much needed insights on what areas of his game need to develop to become an impact NHLer.

His playmaking was good

Billed for his separating shot, it might come as a bit of a surprise that the 5-foot-11 right-wing landed in the top 97th percentile for passes that could have led to a shot and a goal. This data, tracked by Elite Prospects directors of North American and European scouting, Mitchell Brown and Lassi Alanen respectively, also shows that Lekkerimäki’s attempted slot passes 80% higher than his peers during the tournament.

In short, his playmaking results are rather excellent, showing that the Canucks’ prospect isn’t as one-dimensional offensively as most think.

These passes into high-danger shots were ever-present across his tape. In the sequence below, Lekkerimäki blended a lot of skill into this assist. He adjusted his route on the entry, attacked the back of the US defender, and placed a perfect back pass to the trailer, Bystedt to kick-start Sweden’s offence in the bronze medal game. An eye-popping play but a rare one for the Swede in this tournament, who was actually very poor in transition across his games.

Even in low-minute appearances, Lekkerimäki was processing and executing quickly while on-puck. In the clip below, he sets up Isak Rosén for a onetime shot with a two-touch pass from the point, resulting in a high-danger chance.

Lekkerimäki was even finding teammates through layers. Against Germany, he connected with Milton Oscarson, through a maze of defenders.

There was even a dash of heroism in Lekkerimäki’s game. He recorded the primary assist on the overtime winner against Czechia after he sent Ludvig Jansson in after a dogged backcheck.

Shooting: Issues away from the puck

It’s no mistake that the Huddinge-born forward was at his best when on-puck. His biggest weakness was his poor play off-puck; part of the reason Lekkerimäki saw limited and declining power play opportunity.


Unable to consistently escape coverages and dynamically react to open up passing lanes, Lekkerimäki was almost never utilized as the bumper threat by his teammates positioned on the perimeter of the ice. His stick, while occasionally set to shoot, was a major part of this issue. Unaware of oncoming stick checks after moving into the vicinity of defenders, he often was nullified before he could even get into a shooting posture. Low-paced movements need to be replaced with rapid stop-and-start movements to not allow defenders so much time to make a stop and make better use of his trigger release.

While using the Canucks prospect in an off-puck role is an example of the underutilization of his skill set, successful scorers understand how to produce off-puck. This can develop over time — for example, Canucks forward Brock Boeser was an extremely poor off-puck threat in his draft year, and drastically improved that when he transitioned to the NCAA. But as Lekkerimäki currently stands, this is a major hurdle he has to overcome; upping his physical and mental pace to be available for passes and quick-touch opportunities.

Even on this sequence below, he is not ready to redirect the puck when he moved to the net-front as the play developed.

You can see his aforementioned catch-and-release ability here on this 3-on-1 rush against Canada. Lekkerimäki cannot roof the reception, but Thomas Milic also made an incredible toe save on the play.

Blending deception and leveraging advantages

To become a more projectable scorer, Lekkerimäki has to blend more deception in his game and leverage advantages better. In the sequence below, while he sells a pass to the point, Lekkerimäki ends up taking a pretty poor shot given the room he has to attack downhill, further breaking down the Finnish defenders.

In this next sequence, Lekkerimäki’s eyes give away his intentions to shoot. He has Liam Öhgren crashing backdoor and Fabian Lysell set to shoot, but again he doesn’t leverage the open seams and the respect that Canada is giving to his shot.

The shooting skill is obvious, but truly great goal scorers manipulate defensive structures to a much higher level.

Adjusting expectations

Lekkerimäki’s development path will be longer than most,  this isn’t a shock, as it was apparent in his draft year. As much as instant success is gratifying for any draft selection, this is truly a marathon instead of 100 metre sprint.

Shot-first players like Philadelphia Flyers’ Owen Tippett, Seattle Kraken’s Eeli Tolvanen, and even Buffalo Sabres superstar Tage Thompson have all had rougher and longer roads to NHL success, and while these players are very different, it proves that development is never as linear as expected.

Daniel GeeDaniel Gee

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