Blackfish: Reviewing every Canucks prospect at Young Stars, Jonathan Lekkerimäki’s improved forecheck, and more
Photo credit:Nick Barden
By Faber2 months ago
Everybody give a warm welcome to the return of the Blackfish prospects report!
If you’re new here or just need a refresher, the Blackfish report is where we look back at the week that was for the Vancouver Canucks’ prospects. We will have stats, clips, tidbits and much more as the year progresses. This article will run every Tuesday and will be your destination for all the information that you need on the Canucks’ prospect pool.
We will break down the Blackfish report into leagues so that you can compare production between the prospects in their respective leagues.
This week’s report is being written in the South Okanagan Events Centre as we take on the final day of the Young Stars invitational tournament. The Flames are currently up 2-1 on the Jets but you likely don’t care about that. You’re here for Canucks prospects and I’m ready to give it to you.
So, without further ado, let’s get into what you need to know in the world of Canucks’ prospects.
Bonus stats this week from the Young Stars invitational:
Young Stars stats via Canucks.com
So, this is the running stats list that we will keep. I’m not great with graphics, so you’ll be getting a screenshot of my Excel sheet for the time being. If a player is missing or there’s something I should add to the stats, let me know in the comments — let’s work together to give you what you want in these Blackfish articles.
We have 15 of our listed prospects in attendance for the Young Stars tournament and since this is the BIG return of the Blackfish report, let’s give a little dilly on what we’ve seen from each of the prospects in attendance.
Arshdeep Bains looked solid in the tournament. He played net-front on the power play and stuck out with his ability to receive and make passes. Bains has the trait of not needing to stop his feet when he is receiving an inaccurate pass and that stuck out at the level of competition at this tournament. He was a staple on the penalty kill and just looked like an overall great player in this tournament. Expect him to get a good run in the preseason but ultimately begin the year in the AHL, where he will receive top-six minutes.
Kirill Kudryavtsev is heading back to the OHL after Canucks’ training camp but he has once again shown well in the Young Stars tournament. Kudryavtsev has excellent puck skills and moves at a good pace. He will be one that we are following closely in these reports as he is expected to produce a ton of offence in his third OHL season. Kudryavtsev will turn 20 in February and we expect him to join the Abbotsford Canucks at the conclusion of his OHL season.
Danila Klimovich had a quiet first two games at the tournament as he struggled to consistently control the puck, whiffing on a few passes in the neutral zone and shots in the offensive zone. He was moving well and threw the body around a lot throughout the weekend. He will be back in the AHL to begin the season and hopefully receive top-nine minutes instead of being stuck on the fourth line like his past two seasons. We also need to see some AHL power play time for Klimovich, his shot is a weapon on the left half-wall.
Ty Young got the start between the pipes in game two and was solid throughout his time in the crease but ended up allowing two goals in the third period and the Canucks ultimately lost in the shootout. Young is very athletic but there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of his stance and how he attacks shooters. From post to post, he’s great, it looks like there’s just some structure that needs to be added to his game. Marko Torenius and Ian Clark will likely be getting to work with the 19-year-old WHL goaltender this season. He’s raw but you can see potential and it’s nice that he has the 6’3″ size to help him fill up the net. Young is with the Prince George Cougars in the WHL and will be their starter for the year.
We wanted to see a lot of the 6’6″ winger, Vilmer Alriksson and we saw a ton of him throughout the weekend. Something that impressed us was his willingness to play physically and not back down from the opposing teams targeting the big man. Alriksson was used on the power play as a net-front presence and he scored in game one via a nice tip-in. Alriksson has made the move from the Swedish J20 league over to the OHL and has already scored for the Guelph Storm in their preseason action.
There wasn’t a ton to highlight from Sawyer Mynio‘s weekend but he looked like he fit in with the level of competition well and was used a ton on the Canucks’ penalty kill. Mynio did have one great stretch pass that we have to highlight, as he ripped a long pass to Marc Gatcomb in game one to set up a pretty goal. His skating was average, and his puck-moving skills were a bit on the lower end of the talent at this tournament but he was a smart defender and played good positional defence. We will see him in the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds this coming season after being selected in the third round of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Akito Hirose was good but not great throughout the tournament. That being said, we had extremely high expectations for him as he was one of the older players in attendance for Young Stars. Defensively, he was great and he was a points machine on the power play throughout the tournament. We just wanted to see him take command of a game and be the best defenceman on the ice. He was good but not great, and we were expecting great. It’s just a small tournament and Hirose has to be more focused on Canucks training camp as he will battle for a spot on the third pairing with Jack Rathbone, Guillaume Brisebois, Christian Wolanin, and Matt Irwin.
One of the wildcards from the tournament was Dmitri Zlodeyev, who played in the KHL and VHL last season but is now here after he and his KHL club came to an agreement to terminate his two-year contract. Zlodeyev was excellent in the faceoff dot, winning probably 60-80% of his draws at the tournament. It appears as Zlodeyev is looking to earn an AHL contract that could see him also spend some time in the ECHL with the Canucks’ new affiliate, the Kalamazoo Wings. Zlodeyev will get a chance to prove himself at the Vancouver Canucks’ training camp this week as well as the Abbotsford Canucks training camp at the start of October.
Another player who had a spotlight on him was Josh Bloom. After coming over at the trade deadline in exchange for Riley Stillman, Bloom was looking to show his stuff at this tournament as he looks to fight for a spot on the Abbotsford Canucks roster instead of returning to the OHL as an overaged player. Bloom was solid on the penalty kill and helped create some chance in the offensive zone but didn’t exactly stick out and needed to let it hang a bit more in the weekend’s games. Bloom is a great skater, and that was on display at the tournament but he didn’t shine as much as we were hoping for as he is one of the players who intends on making the jump from junior to pro this season.
Aatu Räty showed well this past weekend, he was probably the best Canucks in terms of creating scoring chances for his linemates and also saw big minutes on the penalty kill and power play units. The part we liked most about his game was the toughness that he showed throughout the tournament. Räty wasn’t getting pushed around, in fact, he was the one doing the pushing. Overall, it was an impressive tournament for the 20-year-old centre who is likely to begin the season in the AHL unless he somehow steals an NHL job from Teddy Blueger.
The other goalie used for the Canucks in this weekend’s tournament was the big Belarussian, Nikita Tolopilo. There’s a lot to like from last season’s goalie of the year in the Allsvenskan. Tolopilo takes up a ton of the net with his 6’6″ frame and his movement looks crisp and under control. This is a great prospect for the Canucks’ goaltender department to work with and we expect to see Tolopilo grow his game a ton in the coming year. Expect him to be the backup in Abbotsford this season as he indicated from his new pads.
Hunter Brzustewicz was another OHL prospect from the Canucks’ 2023 draft class who was in attendance for the Young Stars tournament. He showed off his puck skills throughout the weekend and featured on both special teams units. The initial takeaway from watching Brzustewicz live is his intelligence and ability to use the space on the ice to his advantage. He’s a cerebral player who could make advanced-level passes in all three zones. He was never flustered by the pressure of a forechecker and just seemed so calm and cool with the puck on his stick. We also liked how he handled dump-ins, checking the ice before making a decision on what move to make when he arrived at the dumped-in puck. Brzustewicz is heading back to the OHL for his second season with the Kitchener Rangers and is a long shot to make Team USA for the World Junior Championships this winter.
After playing in five NHL games last season, Cole McWard was another player who we had high expectations for in this tournament. Offensively, he lived up to those hopes from us but his defensive game looked shaky at times throughout the weekend. Overall, our viewings of McWard left us wanting more as he seemed to look better in his five NHL games than his three up in Penticton. McWard should be a solid addition to Abbotsford’s right side this season and may even push for NHL games but he’s got some competition with Noah Juulsen, Filip Johansson and Jett Woo.
Max Sasson was the top-line centre for the Canucks throughout the tournament. He was excellent in each and every game. The 22-year-old centre just plays hard and seems to have a toolkit in his game that allows him to be like a chameleon and blend into whatever is asked of him. He won faceoffs, killed penalties, contributed to the power play and was arguably the best Canucks forward when it came to transitioning the puck through the neutral zone. This kid looks like a pro and he will be back with the Abbotsford Canucks this season in a top-six role.
Last but certainly not least is Aidan McDonough, who was the best scorer for the Canucks over the weekend. McDonough wired shots from the right half-wall on the power play — a spot where we will see him do a ton of damage for the Abbotsford Canucks this season. McDonough shined on the power play and was pretty good at even-strength. He played tough and made all the plays that presented themselves to him over the weekend. His best work came on the power play and the goals are a nice confidence jumpstart as he heads into his first professional training camp this week with the Canucks.
We don’t have any AHL games to talk about just yet but we do have some information about the Abbotsford Canucks’ training camp.
Abbotsford’s training camp will take place at the Chilliwack Coliseum from October 4th to 7th and the camp is open to the public. There will be a full-team scrimmage to wrap up camp on the 7th at noon.
J20 Nationell (Sweden)
We are going to get a double-dip of Elias Pettersson (D-Petey) this week as he has been playing in both the SHL and J20 leagues.
D-Petey has been piling up the points in the J20 league with seven assists in just four J20 games. We don’t really have any big highlights to showcase from D-Petey, many of his assists have been second assists or just primary assists that led to a long possession and a goal. One thing to note from his play in the J20 league was how excellent he was this past Saturday. D-Petey had a 91.9% Corsi in that game to go along with an 86.5% control of expected goals. He has held a 74.7% Corsi through his play in the J20 and is dominating in his time with the junior club.
It’s a tough spot for Pettersson as he seems to be too good for the J20 league but not quite good enough to be one of Örebro’s top-six defencemen. Pettersson dressed for one SHL game last week but was lined up as the seventh defenceman and did not see a shift in the game.
Right now, we just want to see him play, so expect to see a lot of points in the coming weeks for D-Petey if he can’t get himself some ice time in the SHL. The good news is that D-Petey is playing on the power play, penalty kill and on the top pairing for his J20 team. The 19-year-old is certainly getting his much-needed reps.
Right-shot defenceman Viktor Persson has not appeared in any games for his Pelicans team so far this season.
Joni Jurmo has played in three Liiga games with Ilves but he has not cracked the scoresheet just yet. Jurmo has been playing in Ilves’ third-pairing in each of the three games that we watched this past week. We liked the way he moved the puck and noted that he was being tasked with killing penalties for his new Liiga club. He’s held a 66.7% Corsi through three Liiga games this season.
We’re approaching preseason games for the NCAA prospects but are still just in the early stages of the team’s assembling for training camps and practices.
There’s a bit of news out of Boston as Tom Willander will not play in game one of the NCAA season due to him playing in one Allsvenskan game in 2021. Due to the Allsvenskan being a pro league, the NCAA has to penalize him for being a pro, even if it was for one game. It’s a good catch from whichever rival team pointed it out.
CHL (OHL + WHL)
The prospects from these leagues are in attendance at the Young Stars tournament and we wrote about them earlier.
Lucas Forsell has played on the fourth line in each of his two SHL games this season. The 20-year-old right winger has not found a point in his two games just yet but he has been showing well on the forecheck and looks like he’s added quite a bit of weight since last season. His offseason diet has included Moose. That’s what we were told.
Forsell only caught nine seconds of power play time through his two SHL games and averaged 10:29 in his two outings with Färjestad in the SHL.
Elias Pettersson (D-Petey) dressed for one SHL game but did not receive a shift. He worked the hell out of the door on the bench, though. Good kid.
Now, for the big finale with 2022 first-round pick Jonathan Lekkerimäki.
The 19-year-old Swedish winger has been off to a hot start in his return to the SHL. Lekkerimäki has scored a power play goal in each of his two SHL games. We’re happy to see the kid do what he does best and perform on the power play. His second goal was an impressive rip from the left half-wall position.
We went back and watched all of Lekkerimäki’s shifts over the two games and had some notes that were both positive and negative.
One thing we noticed at even strength was a much higher level of aggressiveness on the forecheck. It almost felt like were scouting a different prospect than we saw last season. Lekkerimäki did a great job closing in on opposing defencemen with an active stick and a lot of pace that caused pressure. The most impressive thing about Lekkerimäki’s forechecking is his ability to quickly flip a loose puck into a change of possession. Because of his high-end hands, he can scoop up a loose puck and find a streaking teammate or one of his defencemen at the point as he did in this next clip.
In that previous clip, it’s pretty great to see Lekkerimäki use both his stick as well as some physicality to force a turnover. That level of controlled aggressiveness is something that we simply did not see last year in the Allsvenskan.
Though his forecheck was strong, we had some concerns with his decision-making as he began zone exits or pushed the play around his own blue line. There were a few icings due to Lekkerimäki missing outlet passes and he often just makes quick passes where he turns around and flings the puck to an area. Sometimes a teammate is there and the zone exit works with Örebro maintaining possession but in the first two games, a majority of those quick spin passes resulted in a turnover.
It’s also still very clear that Lekkerimäki needs to add muscle, and that’s just going to come with him being the size that he is at this current age. We don’t see him being in the NHL until he adds at least 10-15 more pounds of good muscle. He seems to be sneaky enough in the offensive zone to slip around defenders, but when he is trying to gain body positioning in the defensive zone, he seems to get pushed around a lot, and that may be the reason why he has to do those quick spin passes out of his zone that often results in a turnover.
We’re not flashing any panic alarms just yet as we are only two games into the SHL season and there has been some impressive stuff from the kid on the power play as well as the forecheck. It’s been a great start to the season for Lekkerimäki as he looks to bounce back from his tough 2022-23 season.
This wraps up our first Blackfish prospects report of the 2023-24 season and I’ll say it often throughout the year but this is my favourite article to write every week. Let me know in the comments about what changes you would like to see, which prospects I missed or anything else you are looking for from the Blackfish report.
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