Canucks World Junior recap: Lekkerimäki and Pettersson grab points in a spirited exhibition clash with the USA

Photo credit:Tre Kronor on Twitter
Dave Hall
5 months ago
Team Sweden, featuring the Vancouver Canucks’ prospect trio of Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Tom Willander, and Elias Pettersson, took the ice for their second and final tune-up game on Thursday, facing the high-powered USA team.
The US, boasting numerous highly touted prospects, provided a tough challenge for Sweden. Although it was a simple exhibition match, this game was widely regarded as a “clash of the titans,” as both teams are expected to make deep runs in this year’s World Junior Championship.
As was the case on Tuesday against the Swiss, all three Canucks prospects played strong roles in the game.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki assumed his spot on the top forward line and the first power play unit. On the backend, Tom Willander maintained his position guarding the team’s second pairing, while Elias Pettersson worked on the third unit, both contributing to penalty-killing duties.
In the opening frame, Team Sweden took control by scoring the first two goals, with the Canucks’ prospects making their presence felt on the scoresheet.
In the early stages, after an unsuccessful power play, Jonathan Lekkerimäki took the puck in the neutral zone, slowing down the pace, and allowing his linemate, Noah Östlund, to break toward the net behind the defence.
He orchestrated a well-timed saucer pass, leading to the game-opening goal, marking Lekkerimäki’s first point in the World Junior exhibition round.
Lekkerimäki and Östlund have tons of experience playing alongside one another, and today, that chemistry was on display for much of the game. They should be an exciting duo to watch over the upcoming weeks.
Later in the period, Elias Pettersson, commonly known as D-Petey, found himself alone in the slot. He settled the puck and unleashed a shot on net. Despite a solid save by the US goaltender, Filip Bystedt capitalized on the rebound, extending Team Sweden’s lead to 2-0 to conclude the opening frame.
In the second period, the intensity escalated quickly, with both teams treating the game more than a regular “tune-up” match.
Lekkerimäki and Östlund continued to showcase their chemistry, jumping out the gate strong, and connecting for a near triple-up on the scoreboard.
Lekkerimäki received a fantastic stretch pass from the Buffalo Sabres product, but he couldn’t convert to extend their lead.
Tom Willander had previously stood out on Tuesday as the trio’s standout player, but in this game, it was Pettersson’s turn on defence.
He was effectively shutting down the high-powered opposition, making his presence felt at his end throughout nearly every shift.
This is something that fans can expect as we trend toward the real tournament. Pettersson is a no-nonsense defender, and is not afraid to get himself dirty to shut down his opponents.
The second stanza was filled with numerous big hits, chippy board play and back-and-fourth action throughout. The United States picked up two late-period goals, tying this game up after a spirited 40 minutes.
Despite that spirit, team Sweden appeared to run out of steam, and let the US manhandle the score in the final frame, eventually leading to a 5-3 decision in favour of the United States.
The Swedes, as a whole, played a tough match, and as long as they can keep things going for a full 60 minutes, should not have any issues making their mark on this tournament.
If the world learned anything about this US team today, it was that their power play does not mess around. No matter which unit they roll out, they will likely make you pay, and today, after allowing two deciding 5v4 goals, the Swedes experienced that firsthand.
With both exhibition matches in the rearview mirror, Sweden will begin to focus their attention on the real matches, which are set to begin on Boxing Day. For a refresher on Sweden’s schedule:
December 26, 10:30 AM (PST) – Sweden vs. Lativa
December 28, 10:30 AM (PST) – Germany vs. Sweden
December 29, 10:30 AM (PST) – Canada vs. Sweden
December 31, 5:30 AM (PST) – Sweden vs. Finland
Of course, we will have you covered here at CanucksArmy with full highlights and game breakdowns.

Final thoughts

As we approach the official start of the tournament, here are some final thoughts on each of the Canucks’ three prospects:
Jonathan Lekkerimäki has been performing exceptionally well in the SHL this season, tallying 10 goals and 16 points. As a result, anticipation is high for his impact on Team Sweden in the upcoming tournament.
Following a quiet match against the Swiss, Thursday’s game showcased his prowess alongside his former teammate, Noah Östlund. Although they only combined for a single goal, their numerous scoring opportunities were notable.
Lekkerimäki is expected to be a key player for the team, both at even strength and on the power play, and the expectations are high for him to deliver a notable tournament, after a disappointing showing at last year’s event. From what we’ve seen today, he appears ready for the challenge.
Elias Pettersson has been a consistent performer in both exhibition matches. Positioned for third-pairing shutdown minutes, Pettersson has been a physical presence on the backend and has played his role to a tee. He casts a formidable two-way presence, and as strong as he is on the defensive side, he’s able to turn things around and provide crisp and quick outlets to kick-start the play in the opposite direction.
While fans shouldn’t anticipate high point totals, they can expect simple yet effective play from him, contributing both at even strength and on the penalty kill.
Tom Willander had a challenging outing on Thursday, struggling to piece things together and making a few costly turnovers. While it’s nothing to be alarmed about, especially in a tune-up game, it left viewers wanting more.
The 18-year-old carries a strong motor, so effort levels should not be an issue, and his all-around toolkit should have him finish as a key factor on this team’s blueline.
Although expectations, especially from the fan’s perspective, are high for Willander to thrive in the offensive department, it shouldn’t be surprising if he doesn’t dominate the tournament. While he may accumulate some points at 5v5, it appears he might not be featured on the power play units, limiting opportunities to showcase his playmaking skills as a quarterback.
Instead, he’ll likely assume a second-pairing role and contribute as a penalty killer, relying on his skating and strong gap control. In this tournament, point totals may be seen as a bonus rather than the main focus.
With an experienced group, especially at the forward level, this Swedish team has gone all out to provide a memorable experience for their home crowd. This, combined with a disappointing bronze medal loss in last year’s tournament, should cause them to come out with a chip on their shoulder with tons to play for over the holidays.

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