Photo credit:Tre Kronor on Twitter
Canucks World Junior Recap: Jonathan Lekkerimäki scores twice as Sweden rolls over Latvia
By Dave Hall2 months ago
The 2024 World Junior Championships have officially kicked off in Gothenburg, Sweden.
The host team, which carries three Vancouver Canuck prospects, opened up their preliminary schedule against the Latvians, who are up against it themselves in a strong group A.
The groups for this tournament are as follows:
Group A: Canada, Finland, Sweden, Germany, and Latvia
Group B: USA, Slovakia, Czechia, Switzerland, and Norway
Despite being considered a lower-tiered team, Latvia has a reputation for being a tough out for opponents, rarely finding themselves in blowout matches.
However, they were no match for their projected Gold Medal finalist opponent, Team Sweden.
The Swedes have brought a potent squad to this year’s tournament, with many experienced 19-year-olds spread throughout the forward group. Additionally, the Swedes are coming into the tournament with a chip on their shoulder, looking to make up for last year’s fourth-place finish in front of a home crowd.
Much of that success will be reliant on a few heavy offensive player types, highlighted by Vancouver Canucks’ prospect Jonathan Lekkerimäki.
And today, he delivered in the club’s flawless 6-0 defeat, their sixth straight victory against Team Latvia.
Here is how the lineup looked for the Swedes today.
Let’s check in on each of the three Vancouver Canucks prospects who featured in Swedens’ tourney debut.
Heading into his third World Junior go-around, the stage was set, and whether it was from a Canuck fan base or national perspective, the pressure for Lekkerimäki to perform was stronger than ever.
Despite lofty expectations, he did not disappoint.
In terms of Vancouver Canuck prospects, this game was the Lekkerimäki show, as the 19-year-old sharpshooter was highly engaged and consistently posing a threat in Latvia’s zone while demonstrating the solid bounce-back form that we have been highlighting here at CanucksArmy.
It’s no secret that his quick-release shot is his go-to offensive threat, and today, he was firing at will.
Despite missing the net on several occasions, he made over a dozen attempts and was buzzing all game long.
As expected, while on the team’s top unit power play, he had set up an office in his usual spot along the half-wall, where he was a problem for Latvia’s defence all game long.
He officially ended the game with five shots on target, but it could have been 15.
After drawing a penalty in the second period, Lekkerimäki recalibrated his accuracy and finally found the back of the net.
Within seconds of the penalty being called, Lekkerimäki circled the zone and utilized his patented wrist shot to beat the Latvian goaltender from a distance, securing his first goal of the 2024 Tournament.
In the third period, he added another goal by collecting a pass in the slot, executing a toe drag, and firing the puck through the netminder’s five-hole.
Alongside linemates Noah Östlund and Anton Wahlberg, Lekkerimäki had one of his best outings. With two goals in the game, Lekkerimäki has already surpassed his combined goal total from his previous two World Juniors tournaments.
Heck, he even got involved in the physical aspect of the game.
He finished the game with two goals, five shots and a plus-one rating in just 14:20 minutes of ice time.
Looking at the backend, the game got off to a rocky start as Sweden’s Elias Solomonsson delivered an illegal check from behind, resulting in a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct due to the IIHF’s strict policy.
The downside? Sweden faced an early penalty kill and played short a defender for the remainder of the game.
The upside? This provided ample ice time for the Canucks’ two defensive prospects.
Given the game misconduct, Sweden tasked Elias Pettersson with an elevated role despite starting the game on the team’s third pairing.
He didn’t mind.
He led the entire Swedish team in ice time, skating a pinch over 21 minutes, and was a consistent standout throughout the full 60 minutes.
Before the tournament, I mentioned Elias Pettersson on Canucks Conversation, highlighting that he would likely stand out as the Canucks’ most surprising player.
Not because he was expected to produce all-star numbers and shine every shift, but rather his ability to play simple, yet effective hockey as an all-situations defender.
As anticipated, Pettersson delivered a solid performance, adhering to his typical two-way, no-nonsense style.
He played a significant role on the team’s penalty kill, showcased by his typical physical, effective, and straightforward approach to getting the job done.
As the tournament progresses and the team returns to a six-man unit, a slight reduction in ice time can be expected. Still, fans can anticipate more of the same consistent and reliable play from Pettersson.
This tournament has the potential to be Elias Pettersson’s coming-out party.
Tom Willander had a quiet but solid performance in the opening game.
He did not provide many positive standout moments, except a few strong hits, but he did not fall victim to any notable mistakes, either.
We saw a couple of unfortunate giveaways, but overall, nothing to raise concerns over.
Given his role on the team, fans should not anticipate high point totals from the 18-year-old. Instead, they can expect a game similar to today – an effective two-way presence focusing on strong penalty-killing and controlled gaps, with the occasional contribution to the offensive end.
He ended the game with a plus-two rating through 19:27 minutes of ice time and, much like Pettersson, was a huge contributor to the team’s penalty kill.
As mentioned, Sweden rolled through the Latvians this time around, amping up the home crowd with an imposing 6-0 victory while outshooting them by a wide margin of 35-20.
The difference in this game came down to special teams, with Sweden capitalizing on three of their man advantages.
An efficient power play will be a massive factor in the team’s future success, as they carry one of the most deadly units in the entire tournament—Of course, headlined by Vancouver Canucks’ Jonathan Lekkerimäki.
After a day off tomorrow, the Swedes will return to work on Thursday, December 28th, when they face off against Team Germany.
The puck is set to drop at 10:30 AM (PST).
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