3 Vancouver Canucks prospects named to Sweden’s World Junior Championship team

Photo credit:Tre Kronor on Twitter
Dave Hall
4 months ago
For some, it’s Christmas. For others, it’s New Year’s Eve.
However, for prospect enthusiasts and general hockey fanatics, the World Junior Championships is the most anticipated event to close out the calendar year.
It becomes even more exciting when your favourite NHL team has a presence in the tournament.
In the case of the Vancouver Canucks, fans will have a couple of names to follow.
Unfortunately, Canucks prospect and OHL standout Hunter Brzustewicz has already been left off of Team USA’s camp invitation list, leaving just a few more options for fans to enjoy over the holidays.
Luckily, Team Sweden announced their roster on Wednesday morning, and as expected, they did not disappoint.
Sweden announced 13 forwards, seven defencemen and three netminders, indicating that Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Tom Willander and Elias Pettersson have officially made the Swedish World Junior roster.
Headlining this list, of course, is Jonathan Lekkerimäki, who will be making his third and final appearance in the tournament.
The 19-year-old is expected to play a major role with the team and should be a heavily utilized option both at even-strength and power play, sporting one of the tournament’s more lethal releases.
That shot has been on display all year, as Lekkerimäki finds himself amid a banner season with Örebro (SHL).
His nine goals have him sitting among the league’s top 10 goalscorers, while his 14 points lead the entire U24 circuit – two points above Sweden’s likely go-to defensive option, Axel Sandin Pelikka.
Battling well-documents stints of both injury and illness, his game had not progressed the way he had hoped over his draft plus one year.
This year, he’s healthy, he’s confident, and he’s ready to showcase his progress on the world stage.
Jonathan recently spoke to Canucks.com’s Chris Faber about the difference between this year and previous years.
“Last summer, I couldn’t work out as good as I could this year, so I feel more prepared this year. I think I can work harder and be more competitive this year because of the great summer training.”
We got to witness that competitive nature firsthand last month when Lekkerimäki took part in November’s U20 Five Nations tournament.
He stood out as one of the tournament’s top performers, and while it did not feature a few of the top teams, such as Canada or the USA, it’s a promising precursor to what we can expect over the holidays.
He produced a goal and three assists over three games.
On the backend, the Canucks will have two representatives, with all eyes on Tom Willander, the club’s most recent first-round pick (11th overall).
The 18-year-old chose an unorthodox route, electing to jump the pond to play in the NCAA, as opposed to the Swedish hockey circuit.
This was a positive choice for both the prospect and the organization.
He’s taken the initiative to adjust his game to the North American style and gain firsthand experience of what it takes to thrive on the smaller surface.
Through 15 games, his game has translated well and has been living up to expectations.
He’s up to three goals and eight points, while his plus-13 rating sits seventh among all NCAA defenders.
Working his way up Boston University’s defensive pairings, he has recently enjoyed top minutes, alongside Team USA standout, Lane Hutson.
He is playing in all situations, which includes secondary power play minutes and penalty-killing time, and the same should be expected with Team Sweden.
Given Detroit Red Wings prospect, Axel Sandin Pelikka’s, offensive profile, and his strong rookie season in the SHL, he’s likely to be Sweden’s top quarterback option.
Nevertheless, Willander should receive ample opportunities to contribute in secondary minutes and even contend for a role as the primary option.
The Stockholm native has proved to be an excellent two-way defender, with his elite skating ability propping up his entire game.
He carries a tremendous competitive nature, and in his own end, his ability to close gaps and refuse the middle of the ice is one of his greatest skill sets.
He has the potential to be one of the tournament’s standout defenders.
Finally, we have Elias Pettersson, who will be suiting up in his second stint at the World Junior level.
The 19-year-old has moved around this season but has found a comfortable home in the Allsvenskan league, playing (on loan) with Västerås.
He sports a goal and seven assists through 14 games, and has been enjoying evenly dispersed third-pairing minutes – the team rolls all three units quite evenly.
Team Sweden has brought some heavy firepower, so Pettersson is likely invited to play the “hard minutes” and, more importantly, headline the team’s penalty kill.
Interestingly, Sweden is only bringing two left-handed options – Pettersson being one of them – so this should bode well with him being a prominent member of the defensive corps.
He’s a strong two-way defender, with a good outlet pass and isn’t afraid to muck things up when needed.
In general, Sweden is anticipated to be a strong contender and is poised to compete for a medal.
Having participated in numerous tournaments together, this group boasts a potent and seasoned forward lineup, and filling the net should not be an issue.
Here is Sweden’s preliminary schedule (PST):
December 26–10:30 am, Sweden vs. Latvia
December 28–10:30 am, Germany vs. Sweden
December 29–10:30 am, Canada vs. Sweden
December 31–5:00 am, Sweden vs. Finland
Of course, we will have all of your coverage here at CanucksArmy, so make sure to follow along.

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