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Random Canucks Thoughts: How to handle Jonathan Lekkerimäki in 2024-25

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Photo credit:© Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
David Quadrelli
1 month ago
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Welcome to a new series here at CanucksArmy that we’ve fittingly dubbed Random Canucks Thoughts.
It’s the offseason, so it’s the exact time of year that random Canucks thoughts pop into all of our heads. This team shouldn’t be at the front of any of our minds right now. The sun is shining, the club doesn’t have a first round pick, and NHL free agency is still three weeks away.
But that’s where the randomness of our Canucks thoughts as observers comes into play. Sometimes we’ll have multiple that we want to talk about, other times, we will zero in on one. And that’s what this series will be. Now, I don’t know if I’ll do this every time (I don’t even know how often I’ll write this series), but let me tell you how I came up with this idea. I was walking my dog Bert on Sunday night when Harman Dayal texted me asking what we should do for Monday’s edition of Canucks Conversation.
After a few minutes of thinking and reminding Bert that we don’t eat grass, I came up with an answer: a prospect episode! Harman agreed, so after a quick text to CanucksArmy‘s prospect guru Dave Hall, we were all set for a prospect-heavy edition of Canucks Conversation. In the leadup to that show, I had to come up with our poll question. It felt fitting to ask Canucks fans which prospect they think has the best chance at making the team out of training camp: Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Aatu Räty, Max Sasson, or “other.”
Lekkerimäki led the way, followed by Räty, with Max Sasson finishing third. When I wrote the question, though, I was convinced Sasson would lead the way. Hell, he’ll turn 24 in September and is by far the most mature player of the three. He has the best chance at playing games in a bottom six role under Rick Tocchet for sure. But this thought isn’t about Max Sasson.
Rather, it’s about Lekkerimäki and why I don’t think he’ll make the Canucks out of camp. It’s not a knock on him as much as it is a recognition of how this management regime handles prospects, even dating back to their days in Pittsburgh.
It’s the belief that unless Lekkerimäki comes into camp and looks like an undeniable lock to play in the top six, Abbotsford is the best place for him to play.
2023-24 was a tremendous bounce back year for Lekkerimäki, who disappeared in the season following the Canucks drafting him. He put it all together in 23-24, leading to 19 goals and 12 assists through 46 games in the SHL last season. Dave Hall recently wrote about the big year for Lekkerimäki, which included a taste of the AHL after his SHL season came to a close.
2024-25 should be Lekkerimäki’s chance to spend the year in Abbotsford and set the AHL on fire. He should be playing top line minutes and getting all the guidance he can from Manny Malhotra and his staff. A late season call-up after the fact is just fine, but what Lekkerimäki certainly should not be doing is playing bottom six minutes in the NHL out of camp.
We’ve seen what bouncing up and down the lineup early into their pro careers did to players like Adam Gaudette and Vasily Podkolzin in Vancouver. Even if you scoff at that notion and don’t think AHL seasoning would have changed either players’ outcome, bouncing between the top six, bottom six, and press box certainly didn’t help those players.
This regime likes to do the opposite of the last, and have even been known to “overseason” their prospects in the AHL before giving them a chance to jump into the NHL.
Do you know who didn’t make the NHL roster out of training camp in his first full pro season? Former Penguin Jake Guentzel. Instead, the Rutherford-led Penguins allowed Guentzel to put up 42 points in 33 AHL games before a mid-season call-up to go onto the Penguins’ top line immediately.
Guentzel then tallied 16 goals and 17 assists through 40 NHL games before notching 13 goals and eight assists through 25 playoff games en route to Pittsburgh hoisting the cup that year. Now, I’m not saying Lekkerimäki is going to do that for the Canucks, but I’m also not not saying that, either.
In all seriousness, the lesson here is that as long as Rutherford has any say, it would be downright shocking to see the Canucks do anything other than put Lekkerimäki in the AHL to begin the new season. Coming from Europe and just one season removed from disappointment, it’s not hard to believe that Lekkerimäki has a ways to go before he’s ready to be a consistent top six producer in the NHL.
And until that happens, he’ll be right down the road in Abbotsford chipping away at his game and working towards becoming the player so many in the Canucks organization believe he can be.
How long that takes remains to be seen.
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