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Monday Mailbag: Free agent targets, Jonathan Lekkerimäki‘s bounce back, and ranking draft eligible right-shot defencemen

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Photo credit:Matthew Henderson
Faber
By Faber
11 months ago
With the NHL playoffs drawing the attention of the majority of hockey fans, we’ve been keying in on Vancouver Canucks prospects playing in their respective playoffs.
While Jonathan Lekkerimäki’s club came up one game short of being promoted to the SHL, he did manage to finish his playoff run as a point-per-game player.
Josh Bloom and Connor Lockhart each picked up a win after a split in the first two games of the OHL’s Eastern Conference Finals.
Daimon Gardner wasn’t able to find the scoresheet in his USHL playoff and was eliminated on Saturday.
And all the while, we see the Abbotsford Canucks down two in a best-of-five series against the AHL’s top team.
We’re just a few more days away from diving into full-time offseason mode. The tape is lined up to dive into the draft prospects for the Canucks and we are less than 10 days away from the NHL draft lottery, which will take place on May 8th.
There’s not much to talk about here in my mailbag intro but luckily, we’ve got a bunch of questions to answer. The speed round portion of the Monday Mailbag seems to be something you’ve enjoyed, so we will continue to include that in this weekly article.
So, without wasting any more words, let’s dive into the mailbag and see what the wonderful people of #CanucksTwitter had to ask this week.
So you’re saying there’s a chance?
Yep, there’s a 3% chance that the Canucks win the draft lottery and move up to first overall.
There’s also a 3% that the Canucks win the draft lottery in another way and move up to second overall.
If the Canucks were to move up to second overall, the easy choice is to go with Adam Fantilli.
He’s a 6’2″, centre who just led the NCAA in points with 30 goals and 35 assists in 36 games.
Fantilli would be the perfect player to jump right into the 3C role for the Canucks and he has the upside to be a top-line centre in the NHL. His size and competitive level make for an extraordinary base level and his shot is elite. If Connor Bedard wasn’t around, Fantilli would look like a true first-overall pick. Whoever gets him at number two is going to be very happy.
Leo Carlsson and Matvei Michkov are close but still stand behind Bedard and Fantilli.
Carlsson has size and skill but didn’t necessarily shine like Fantilli did this season. Carlsson has a ton of upside in his game and we know that the Canucks like Swedes, but in this case, you’ve got to go with Fantilli.
Michkov may be the second most offensively gifted player in the draft behind Bedard, but his status in the KHL and size are going to worry some teams with a top-five pick.
There are few relatively high-end players who will be free agents this summer and I sure hope that the Canucks stay away from all of them.
Luckily, the Canucks don’t currently have space to sign any of the high-end free agents.
The obvious needs for the Canucks are a third-line centre, a left-shot defenceman to play with Filip Hronek and a right-shot defenceman to play with Quinn Hughes.
Sheldon Dries was useable in the 3C position, but he’s not the long-term answer. The same can be said about Ethan Bear as Hughes’ partner.
All that being said, the number one Canucks free agent target should be a cheap veteran centre who can provide a boost to the penalty kill, bring some leadership to the room, and just be a guy you can trust to control the goal-share in a bottom-six role — being good in the faceoff dot is an added bonus.
I’d look at Nick Bgjugstad or Noel Acciari and keep their cap hit under $1,500,000.
Both players kill penalties, are right-shot centres, and will each be in at least the second round of the NHL playoffs. It feels like a nice addition to the Canucks, who shouldn’t have to overpay for any players given the current cap situation around the league.
I don’t really think there’s a player that the Canucks need to target this offseason. It’s not time to make a big splash in free agency.
I’d see the Canucks taking Oliver Moore in this spot.
My argument would be for David Reinbacher as I believe he can be Hughes’ partner for the next 10 years but the Canucks need centre prospects in their system and Moore is an excellent one.
They need to stay away from wingers with their pick even if they are rated a bit higher in their rankings. There are enough centres in the 8-12 range of this draft and with Axel Sandin-Pellikka and David Reinbacher around that mix, the Canucks could go with a right-shot defenceman.
Moore is heading to the University of Minnesota next year, he would be a good prospect to follow and potentially hops into the NHL next year after his NCAA season concludes.
We like Reinbacher because he can develop as an 18-year-old in the AHL with the Abbotsford Canucks. You can really get him to work closely with the organization’s best development coaches and prepare him to be Hughes’ partner as soon as the 2024-25 season.
Lekkerimäki’s play in the playoffs is certainly a positive conclusion to his year but as a whole, the year was disappointing for the 15th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
The points were nice to see but the part of his game that we liked the most in the playoffs was the elevated level of compete that he showed. His forechecks were done with authority, he threw the body around more than we have ever seen, and his confidence with the puck was instantly noticeable. After watching this kid play in the playoffs, you want him to simply build off of what he just accomplished.
The performance we saw in the playoffs is likely more of what we will see next year as Lekkerimäki had setback after setback in his 2022-23 season, including a battle with mono, travelling all around the world at draft time, suffering a concussion, and having a five-week foot injury.
We expect him to make his way into the SHL next season on a loan but hold out hope to see him with Abbotsford or re-enter the CHL import draft. No matter the case, we want to see him here in North America but don’t expect to see it in the end. He is likely to get a loan to an  SHL team and continue to develop overseas. Maybe we see him in North America at the conclusion of his 2023-24 season.
The playoff performance is certainly more indicative of where we want to see Lekkerimäki be at with him game and with all the setbacks he had during the season, we also believe the playoffs is a better sample size to believe in compared to his poor performance during the regular season.
The hope is that he cans tay healthy, build muscle, and come back as an even more confident player next year. The World Juniors present a chance for Lekkerimäki to really showcase himself as a top-end prospect. With the WJ’s being in Lekkerimäki’s home country of Sweden, it’s got the potential to be quite the show.
Speed Round
I see Vasily Podkolzin maximizing his potential in a Canucks jersey.
As for Nils Höglander, I believe he will find success under the right coach. There’s a lot of skill there but he needs the right coach to believe in him and for him to believe in the coach. He might find that with Rick Tocchet.
First Rounders (RD):
  1. David Reinbacher
  2. Axel Sandin-Pellikka
  3. Tom Willander
Second Rounders (RD):
  1. Lukas Dragicevic
  2. Aram Minnetian
  3. Oliver Bonk
I hope so. They will play hard on Wednesday to make it happen.
He most definitely has worked on closing the gap. The Canucks’ first-round pick will likely be the top prospect.
The race for second is up there for Elias Pettersson (D-Petey), Aatu Räty, and Jonathan Lekkerimäki to chase next season.
The highest-ceiling prospect who has never played in the NHL has to be Jonathan Lekkerimäki.
The best chance to play impactful during NHL games is either Elias Pettersson, Jonathan Lekkerimäki or Danila Klimovich. Lucas Forsell or Nikia Tolopilo are probably in the background of that conversation.
Columbus Blue Jackets might be a team for Conor Garland.
As for Boeser, maybe the Minnesota Wild or Nashville Predators.
The money makes it complicated for both.
Assigning Vasily Podkolzin to the AHL or re-signing Kyle Burroughs.
Number 98.
And there will be a Connor Bedard jersey night giveaway to open the season.
Every single person in the crowd will be wearing a #98 Bedard jersey.
Well, that wraps up another Monday Mailbag here at CanucksArmy. 
Thank you to all the great folks who sent in questions this week and we will see you next Monday to do this all over again.

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