Expectations for Canucks prospects Lekkerimäki and Pettersson in North America

Photo credit:@orebrohockey on Twitter
Dave Hall
4 months ago
It’s that time of year when teams worldwide are facing elimination from playoff contention, leading to anticipated transitions and promotions to the North American professional ranks.
For Vancouver Canucks fans, the organization happens to boast two highly enticing European prospects on the cusp of joining the team.
Chek TV’s Rick Dhaliwal reported earlier today that Jonathan Lekkerimäki will report to Vancouver for 8-10 days before returning to Sweden in an attempt to make the Swedish World Championship team. Meanwhile, Elias Pettersson has already made the move across the pond and begun practicing with the Abbotsford Canucks.
Let’s delve into what fans can anticipate from their respective transitions.

Jonathan Lekkerimäki

By now, we all know the story.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki’s season has been a remarkable turnaround from his previous struggles. After a challenging draft-plus-one year, the 19-year-old bounced back with a vengeance, establishing himself as a dominant force in the SHL and reinstating his status as the Vancouver Canucks’ top prospect.
He finished the year ranked fourth in SHL goals, led the U23 circuit in points, and earned himself the reputation of being the go-to option for Örebro in all scoring situations.
Simply put, if he wasn’t posting points, there was a good chance that the team was losing games.
Over the year, he’s emerged as a bona fide first-line, top-producing winger in the SHL. But will that success translate to the North American game?
Lekkerimäki’s release and accuracy have earned widespread praise, with most respected voices considering his shot to be world-class. He deceives goaltenders with angles and jukes before unleashing pinpoint shots, often finding the smallest openings – which, for him, are typically in the top corners of the net.
This ability to place his shot will be a potent weapon on the power play, no matter the level he plays in. He has made a young career out of running the left-side half-wall and has become a master at stepping up to the plate and providing clutch goals for his team.
Even strength is where the big question continues to lie, however.
His inability to get inside and cause havoc from the slot is still viewed as a potential factor between him being a top-line producer and a mid-range goalscorer at the NHL level. He’s grown a reputation for being a more perimeter player, and those concerns continue to hold merit today.
However, confidence does wonderful things to the psyche, and in the second half of the year, we began to see glimpses of him cutting into the middle to generate his plays. He’s shown intriguing progress in navigating through traffic, winning battles along the boards, and providing much more spark on the forecheck.
With that said, NHL defenders typically maintain tighter gaps, apply more aggressive pressure, and are more adept at disrupting offensive plays compared to your average SHL defender.
To succeed in North America, Lekkerimäki will not only need to bulk up from his slight 172 lb frame, but he will need to find new and creative ways to generate scoring chances against much more aggressive and tight defensive pressure.
Which brings us to his transition:
Sure, it’s tempting to see a clip of him scoring a pinpoint-accurate goal in the late stages of a Swedish game and think to yourself, “Get this kid on the power play with Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson immediately.” Realistically, however, it’s probably best to hold your breath on that scenario for now.
For starters, history is not on his side. This new Canuck regime has already shown their willingness to play the long game with prospects. They have offered no hesitation toward letting them marinate in Abbotsford to not only find their pro game but do so at a consistent rate for an extended period of time – Re: Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin.
Secondly, as has typically been the case with each of his jumps in men’s hockey, his transition is likely to come with its share of ebbs and flows.
Yes, Lekkerimäki improved drastically in his ability to work the boards, jump into the middle, and show a competitive edge on the forecheck throughout the year. But don’t get it twisted. Energized or not, he was no force on the ice. And the defensive competition he’s faced thus far is nowhere near the level he’ll be up against in North America.
Learning all the new intricacies of finding space and time to utilize his incredible release is going to be a steep learning curve – and that’s just at the AHL level.
In terms of a comparable trajectory, Alexander Holtz, a fellow Swedish forward who carries a similar profile and followed a similar path, comes to mind. Holtz made the transition to North America at a comparable age, and it wasn’t until this season, his 21–22 years, that he secured a full-time role in the NHL.
Sure, injuries and circumstances come into play, but it’s a good case study as to what a timeline for a legitimate young Swedish sniper could resemble.
Holtz played 76 AHL games before transitioning to full-time duties with the New Jersey Devils.
At the top of his game, Lekkerimäki carries the potential to emerge as a 40-plus goalscorer on the top line for the Canucks down the road. However, it’s far more realistic to anticipate consistent production in the realm of 25–30 goals as a top-six contributor.
Unless he innovates his scoring methods, especially at even strength, his opportunities to unleash his trademark release may be constrained.
Despite the history of scoring big-time goals, he hasn’t necessarily shown the ability to drive his own line, and his limited production in the assist department offers legitimate concern. Throughout his career and at any level, his highest number of assists in a single season was during his time at the J20 level, where he tallied 15 assists over 26 games.
The Canucks are adding a bona fide sniper who is expected to evolve into a top-six contributor over time. We anticipate him starting the year in Abbotsford, with a check-in midway through the year.

Elias Pettersson

As a complete contrast in playing style, we have Elias Pettersson, who has recently joined the Abbotsford Canucks and is poised to make his debut in due time.
The 6-foot-4, 209-lb rugged defender joins the organization fresh off a strong year at the Allsvenskan level, where he amassed 19 points, 10 blocked shots and was fourth on his team with 26 hits.
Pettersson’s aggressive approach spans across all areas of the rink. He showcases his willingness to engage physically, whether in front of his net, along the boards, at 5v5, or while killing penalties.
Unlike Lekkerimäki, who may encounter difficulties adapting to the physical nature of North American hockey, we expect Pettersson’s defensive tenacity, size and awareness to transition quite seamlessly.
If there were an area where there is likely to be a steep learning curve for him, it would be his ability to keep up with and contain speedy forwards, forcing them to the outside. EP26 is no slouch in the skating department, but his lack of experience against top-flight forwards has yet to be fully tested. It shouldn’t be a long-term issue, if at all, but given the highest level of competition he’s faced to date, it’s a new challenge that he can expect.
While Pettersson’s game isn’t necessarily focused on offence, he certainly holds his own in that aspect. In addition to his passable skating ability, he demonstrates a strong transition game, highlighted by his ability to make composed retrievals and execute crisp first passes out of the defensive zone.
He’s not afraid to jump up in the play when the moment presents itself, but he’s smart enough not to put himself into jeopardizing positions.
While it’s not exactly a direct comparison, fans can expect a game somewhat similar to Ian Cole, who plays a meat-and-potatoes brand of hockey.
Looking ahead, Pettersson’s two-way game presents an intriguing bottom-four outlook. Following the organizational philosophy, fans will likely witness a developmental period before he makes his NHL debut.
Having just recently turned 20, there’s no need to rush his development unless he miraculously arrives and offers instant success.

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