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The resurgence of Vancouver Canucks prospect Jonathan Lekkerimäki: Year in review

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Photo credit:X/@abbycanucks
Dave Hall
1 month ago
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You don’t have to be overly tall to stand out in the Vancouver Canucks‘ prospect pool these days. Although improved, it’s essentially the equivalent of a kiddie pool.
But don’t let that take away from the stellar 2023-24 campaign in Jonathan Lekkerimäki’s rearview.
At just 19, he took on a prominent role in Örebro’s top-six forward group in the SHL, becoming one of the league’s premier goalscorers.
And whether in the SHL, American League, or on the international stage, Lekkerimäki commanded attention and reestablished himself as the top dog among the Canucks’ prospect pecking order.

Counting Statistics

Lekkerimäki bounced back with a vengeance in his official rookie season in the Swedish League, posting impressive numbers for a player of any age. 
Across 46 regular-season games, he scored 19 goals and added 12 assists for 31 points, leading the entire U23 circuit. Despite being one of the youngest skaters in the league, his 19 goals ranked fifth highest among all skaters. Lekkerimäki would also lead his team in goals, earning himself team MVP honours.
For a player holding a reputation as a perimeter player and “powerplay merchant,” you may be impressed to hear that only six of his goals came with the man advantage.
On the international stage, Lekkerimäki represented Sweden at the 2024 World Junior Championships, where he showed off his regained form to the world. 
In seven games, he tied for most goals (7) and finished third in points (10) tournament-wide. Lekkerimäki also played a pivotal role in Sweden’s journey to a silver medal, earning him the tournament MVP Award and a spot on the Media All-Star Team.
After a three-game play-in-round exit with Örebro (one assist), he wrapped up his whirlwind season by crossing the pond to North America to make his highly anticipated AHL debut.
Despite several opportunities to do so earlier, it took him five games to ease in and flex his offensive muscle by scoring his first AHL goal. Of course, it came in typical Lekkerimäki sharpshooting fashion.
He followed that up with an assist in his next match to give him the first point streak for the Canucks’ faithful to witness firsthand.
Unfortunately, that would be the last we’d see of his efforts in North America.
After suiting up in just six games with the Abbotsford Canucks, he set sail for a month-long World Championship audition, vying for his first spot on the senior Swedish national team.
With the addition of several high-calibre forwards in the weeks leading up to the event, Lekkerimäki fell short and was sent home empty-handed.
No AHL playoffs. No World Championships. Nothing.
That said, he did finish the season with an incredibly full trophy mantle. Throughout the year, he racked up several personal awards, making him one of the more accomplished players in any system for the year.
  • SHL Best Junior (EliteProspects.com Award)
  • SHL Most Goals by Junior (19)
  • SHL Most Points by Junior (31)
  • Örebro Most Valuable Player
  • Swedish Junior Hockey Player of the Year
  • U20 WJC All-Star Team
  • U20 WJC Most Valuable Player
  • U20 WJC Silver Medal

Development and Improvements

Don’t get it twisted: statistics are fantastic and are the foundation of an offensive-minded youngster’s professional career. But the positives in Jonathan Lekkerimäki’s regained form stretch beyond just scoring goals.
Comparing his performance to previous seasons is simply unfair. His struggles with various ailments and injuries are well-documented, making his draft-plus-one season (2022-23) essentially a wash.
Now healthy, one of the most notable year-to-year improvements has been his motor and willingness to engage in the dirty areas of the ice. While it’s still very much a work in progress and perhaps not yet “NHL-ready,” it has played a major role in his recent success.
He showcased a much greater willingness to attempt drives into the middle of the ice and proved to be a pest on the forecheck this season.
“One-on-one battles on the boards and play around the net,” said Lekkerimäki, who spoke about his major focus in an interview with Canucks.com’s Chris Faber. “I want to find areas that I can shoot as soon as I get the puck, so I think I need to move my feet to get to those areas. I want to be stronger without the puck and stronger defensively. I’ll be taking away the body more and more.”
Let’s call a spade a spade: Lekkerimäki is, and always will be, known as a shooter. That’s his M.O. and what will eventually be the make-or-break attribute that propels him up the ranks.
However, North American hockey’s smaller ice and physical nature present a whole new challenge, and his ability to adapt and find space and time will be paramount to a successful transition.
Luckily, his six-game stint with the farm team gave us a good indication of where his game stands at this level, and it’s not far off.
While he was by no means a dominant force on the ice, his willingness to fight for pucks and protect possession was evident and positive. This effort indicates where his game may be trending.
Additionally, his ability to perform in big moments was another standout area of his game this season. Despite being the youngest full-timer on his SHL squad, Lekkerimäki was often relied upon in critical moments of a match.
Whether it was in the final minute, seeing the majority of the ice in overtime, or being called upon in the shootout, he was often the one getting the tap on the shoulder.
The proof is in the pudding, as his seven game-winning goals finished the season third highest league-wide.

Looking Ahead

Now for the million-dollar question: Is he NHL-ready?
Heading into training camp, he will be a freshly turned 20-year-old with just six games of North American hockey under his belt.
And in those six games, he was good but still showed areas needing fine-tuning.
Could he light up the Youngstars Showcase in Penticton, follow it up with a strong training camp, and take a spot in Vancouver come October? Sure.
However, unless the plan is to play him in a prominent top-six, power-play role, it might be beneficial to take the “slow cook” approach and allow him to develop further in the AHL.
As a homegrown, highly drafted prospect, Lekkerimäki represents one of the organization’s lone “must-hit” forward prospects.
With little-to-no additional high-pedigree prospects beyond him, handling his immediate situation correctly is crucial to the team’s roster makeup over the next five years.
What’s our answer?
Barring a commanding performance that earns him a roster spot, let him gain his reps as a heavily utilized top-six and powerplay forward in Abbotsford. Place him in opportunities to take ample shots, score some goals, build much-needed confidence, and re-evaluate his situation at Christmas or if injuries hit the team.
What do you think, Canucks fans? Were you encouraged by Jonathan Lekkerimäki’s season? And where do you want to see him play next season?
 

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