The Jonathan Lekkerimäki revenge tour is off to a great start in the SHL
Photo credit:@orebrohockey on IG
By Dave Hall2 months ago
There’s a comeback story that’s brewing. A revenge tour in the making.
Simply put, 2022 first-round pick Jonathan Lekkerimäki is off to a great start.
Regardless of the terminology, one thing’s for certain — we’re all eagerly embracing Lekkerimäki’s strong start to the season in his return to the SHL.
For some time now, the Canucks’ prospect pool had been lacking significant star power, so when the Canucks drafted the Swedish sharpshooter 15th overall in 2022 — their first opening-round pick since 2019 — fans were quick to hop on board the hype train. And for good reason.
If his draft year was any indication, he was primed to offer daily doses of highlight-worthy goals and bring a fresh stream of offence to a dwindled pipeline.
Well, from a well-documented case of mono to ill-timed setbacks, which include a concussion and foot injury, the journey of his post-draft career hasn’t exactly delivered on expectations.
But, today, since that is now in the rearview mirror, we will focus on the positives and what has changed for Lekkerimäki this season. Fueled by restored health, he appears poised to reclaim the unwavering confidence that the Canucks faithful once had in him and reassert himself as the organization’s premier prospect.
Look out, Tom Willander.
Realistically, this resurgence in confidence can be traced back to last spring. After missing nearly two months of action with his above-mentioned foot injury, Lekkerimäki returned at the end of March and was injected directly into the Allsvenskan postseason.
Before his missed time, he struggled to find consistency and contributed just nine points across 29 Allsvenskan games. Which, for an offensively driven forward who contributed those exact numbers in the SHL just one season prior – in three fewer games, this was simply not going to cut it.
So, did he get his game back? Oh, yeah.
Feeling strong and healthy, he stood out as one of the tournament’s top players, maintaining a point-per-game pace throughout, and finished third in scoring with five goals and 10 assists. He became the first U21 skater to hit that plateau, as an 18-year-old, and fell just seven points shy of the league’s all-time high – currently held by former Canucks prospect Jonathan Dahlen. Sure, the team suffered an early exit and failed to get promoted, but we are focusing on player success today.
And with that, he was off to the races to start his revenge tour.
For a player who had temporarily lost the faith of many Canucks fans, this performance was a much-needed injection of optimism. It was a sign that the club’s prized first-rounder was on the path to rediscovering the form that made him such an enticing prospect pre-draft. All that was needed was a strong off-season and the ability to somehow take that built-up confidence into the next year.
Back to the SHL
Loaned to Örebro, Lekkerimäki found a new home to assert himself and redefine his game as a bona fide top-six threat in the SHL. Which, as mentioned, he was on a positive track to do so just two years prior in his draft year campaign.
Head Coach, and former Vancouver Canucks goaltender, Johan Hedberg, appeared to believe in his game out of the gate in exhibition play. Recently, on CHEK TV’s Donnie and Dhali, Hedberg raved about the 19-year-old’s play “He’s been great. What everybody talks about with Jonathan is his shot, but his play-making skills are elite too,” Hedberg said. “He’s much more structured than I thought he would be. He’s actually pretty sound defensively and is taking good responsibility out there.”. Early on, that confidence in his game has been evident.
Although initially slotting in among the club’s bottom half of the lineup, it did not take long for Lekkerimäki to ascend up the pecking order as the pre-season progressed.
Scoring four goals to showcase your stuff helps, I suppose.
Once he asserted himself into that top-six role, he hasn’t looked back. Now, five games into the new season, Lekkerimäki has found himself in a thriving role and a key member of the club’s offensive recipe, which has them sitting second league-wide sporting a 3-1-1 team record.
So, what’s different? What is he doing on a nightly basis to figure it all out once again? Well, obviously, health plays a huge factor, but let’s check in.
Let’s dive right into the good stuff, shall we?
Jonathan Lekkerimäki’s bread and butter and the essence of what marked him as a first-round talent is his release. After struggling to fill the net last year, he appears to have his swagger back, and it did not take long for him to establish himself and grab his first goal, putting his name alongside some nice company:
Setting up from the half-wall, this is Lekkerimäki’s preferred area of operation, and it’s encouraging to see him finding his mark there early in the season, albeit on unit two. Fans have been envisioning the potential of a future powerplay unit featuring Lekkerimäki, Hughes, and Pettersson controlling the top of the NHL triangle. So, it’s reassuring to witness him getting valuable reps in this position right from the start.
It did not take long for him to deliver again, firing home almost an identical goal just one game later. That’s two powerplay markers over two games. What did I say? Half wall.
As a true marksman, Lekkerimäki possesses an innate understanding of where goals are scored, and he knows precisely when to position himself for the scoring opportunity. He now has three, one of them coming at even strength, in five games, which is a huge point of relief for a player looking to find his game again. And there is no better way for a struggling goalscorer to find his confidence than to fill the net early on.
One thing that he will need to work on is taking more shots. He is currently sitting at just 14 shot attempts, seven of which have hit the net, and is running a 48.1 CF% through five games at even strength. I will touch on why he is struggling to commit to shots a little later, but it is certainly an area that needs work.
He’s got a cannon, so start using it!
Playing with newfound confidence
The power of confidence cannot be overstated, and Lekkerimäki is living proof of this. His early-season performance has oozed poise, at least in comparison to last year, and it’s evident in the way he carries the puck.
In one particular sequence (below), you can witness a nifty puck flip, a drive to the net, coupled with a slick pass to set up his teammate in the slot. He stays with it and sets up a teammate immediately after, this time in the slot. Sure, this is just one clip, but believe me, this has been a far more common theme this year, as he is clearly instilling better habits early on.
Contrary to past years, where he looked uncomfortable and panicked, Lekkerimäki has been far more creative and willing to take the extra time to get around a defender.
There are elements in his game that still are not quite up to snuff, but we will get to that later.
Playing in all situations
One of the more notable aspects of Lekkerimäki’s season thus far has been how Hedberg has deployed the young sharpshooter. While being a part of the top-six and earning powerplay time is impressive, it’s the pivotal moments when the game is in the balance that truly stand out and offer a very telling story. Whether it’s the dying minutes of regulation, overtime, or a crucial shootout, Lekkerimaki has consistently been called upon to make an impact.
In both of Örebro’s overtime games this season, Lekkerimäki was entrusted to lead the attack in the final minutes of play. While this may seem like a moot point to some, if you are aware of how 19-year-olds tend to be utilized in leagues such as the SHL, this is pretty significant.
In both of these overtime contests, the games eventually went to a shootout. Not only was Lekkerimäki called upon to take shots in both, but was thrown in as the fourth shooter, after he had already scored among the initial three. Unlike the NHL, you can revisit any player. Again, just a subtle hint that he has earned significant trust in a coach as a young skater.
Unfortunately, he missed the shot, but he is now two-for-three in shootout attempts and is clearly in the coaches’ good books to see further attempts throughout the year.
What needs work
While there’s plenty to be optimistic about, it’s important to acknowledge that not everything is smooth sailing and there are certainly glimpses in his game that still require fine-tuning.
I mean, let’s not get too carried away.
Yes, he is playing with confidence, which, most do after scoring a few goals. However, we have to address the elephant in the room: his size. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds, Lekkerimaki carries a slight frame, and it’s evident when he’s on the ice. The primary concern stemming from his size is his ability to drive to the net effectively. Currently, he tends to stay on the perimeter, which is an aspect he’ll need to work on as he continues to progress throughout the year and, eventually, makes the transition to the North American game.
You can make plays on the outside all day, but if you cannot create high-danger chances, you are limiting yourself tremendously. This downfall aligns with his lack of shots during the year. While seven shots over five games is not terrible, it could be bolstered in a big way if he were to grind to the net.
Of course, as a teenager, he has ample time and potential for physical development, and in terms of peripheral statistics, it’s a safe bet to assume that he will never carry a grinder in his toolkit. His primary role is clear: he’s here to score goals in crucial moments, and that’s his main focus. With that said it would be nice to see him bulk and add some meat to his frame.
Look, the season is still incredibly early, and while it’s undeniably exciting to witness his early success, it’s crucial to keep in mind that he’s just a teenager. There will undoubtedly be ups and downs throughout the season – it’s inevitable. And yet, all of the factors laid out above paint a pretty exciting picture as to what we might expect as we continue on with his U20 campaign.
Considering the string of unfortunate setbacks he’s faced, he certainly deserves a bit of respite and the opportunity to rediscover his game. His blazing start has laid a solid foundation for him to build upon, and with full confidence from his Head Coach, there are early indications that have him trending toward a “revenge tour” season.
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