Should the Canucks pair Jonathan Lekkerimäki with Elias Pettersson in Game 5?

Photo credit:X/@abbycanucks
Dave Hall
30 days ago
Following a dramatic 3-2 loss in Edmonton that tied the series at two games apiece, a select few Vancouver Canucks players engaged with the media to dissect the series.
Among the players under scrutiny was Elias Pettersson, who has faced criticism for his performance during the playoffs thus far.
While he’s not alone in his struggles, his one goal and four points have become a significant point of discussion – and rightfully so.
Of course, injuries could be a significant factor in explaining his struggles. However, his inability to produce and lack of effort on a shift-by-shift basis has become a valid concern and one that warrants immediate attention.
Could linemates be the problem?
Most of his 10 games have been spent alongside Nils Höglander and Ilya Mikheyev, who have struggled mightily to muster up offensive looks.
TSN’s Farhan Lalji directly addressed this question to Elias Pettersson.
“There is a thought out there that maybe if you were playing with players that score more, that might help,” Lalji said. “Do you see it that way at all?
“Yeah, maybe,” Pettersson replied flatly. “Maybe it could help.”
Given this perspective, perhaps it’s time to start exploring all potential options. According to Rick Tocchet, no one is off-limits right now.
“I think everyone is in play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs,” Tocchet told the media on Tuesday. “I’m swinging the bat. I’m not scared.”
As the Canucks announced last week, the organization assigned a lengthy list of prospects and veterans to the club’s “Black Ace” roster following the elimination of their AHL affiliate in Abbotsford.
Currently, Linus Karlsson is the lone player from that list to crack the lineup. However, his ice time has been limited, logging less than 20 minutes total over two games with two penalty minutes and a minus-1 rating to show for his efforts.
It’s promising for him to get a look, but has he proven to be the answer? Probably not.
So, where can the club turn for additional scoring assistance? Sure, we have the obvious, and more likely answers.
There’s always Nils Höglander, but he’s faced struggles of his own, tallying just one assist through eight playoff games while averaging less than 10 minutes a night. With most of his minutes coming skating alongside Pettersson, their inability to spark offence has already been proven.
What about Vasily Podkolzin? By now, we know that his strengths at the pro level align more with the physicality of a bottom-sixer, rather than being tailor-made for goal-scoring matchups.
Throughout the regular season, Podkolzin managed just two assists in his 19-game stint. Even in his recent time in Abbotsford, he struggled to stand out offensively, recording just one assist in his three playoff games.
While Podkolzin offers size and grit worthy of a shutdown look, he may not provide the offensive spark needed for Elias Pettersson.
Which brings us to Jonathan Lekkerimäki.
With a noted scoring touch, could this be the opportune time to drink from the fountain of youth and introduce the club’s top prospect to ignite a swift spark?
His season’s work needs no introduction. Bouncing back fiercely from a challenging draft-plus-one campaign, the 2022 15th overall pick dominated the SHL to finish fifth in leaguewide goal scoring, while leading the U24 circuit with 19 goals.
Lekkerimäki success came with its share of accolades, highlighted by the SHL Rookie of the Year Award and being named World Junior tournament MVP.
Following his memorable year in Sweden, the 19-year-old ventured to the American League for his short, but much-anticipated debut.
Although it took some time for him to adjust offensively, he found his footing within a few games and concluded his stint riding a two-game point streak, punctuated by a trademark top-shelf goal.
While it wasn’t a perfect debut, Lekkerimäki ultimately proved his spot in North America. While concerns have always focused on his lack of size or ability to drive into the middle of the ice, his effort levels were not out of place, and he stood out on several occasions with solid puck protection and board battles.
Departing early from the AHL, Lekkerimäki vied for a spot with the Swedish National Team at the World Championships. Despite favourable odds at the outset of the team’s announced training squad, stiff competition from NHL stars ultimately dashed his hopes of securing a roster spot.
Now back on North American soil, Lekkerimäki awaits his chance to make his NHL debut.
With the Canucks set to enjoy home-ice advantage in Game 5, they now carry the ability to leverage line matching to strategically deploy him, even if his ice time remains limited.
While it may not be wise to play him in hard minutes, finding spots to place him with Elias Pettersson in an offensive role could very well be the answer for both players.
What could go wrong?
Well, adapting to new systems stands out as an obvious flag. Lekkerimäki has been immersed in Sweden’s system for the past few weeks, and asking him to swiftly readjust to Tocchet’s strategies while navigating the intensified environment of playoff hockey is quite a tall order.
Moreover, there are obvious areas where Lekkerimäki’s game requires improvement – or, in this case, bulking.
While his AHL debut showed that his work ethic and willingness to battle for possession were improved and passable, he continues to show room for growth in his physical engagement along the boards and in the corners.
Given the heightened physicality of playoff hockey, asking him to slot in on a whim is a true gamble, both from a confidence and health perspective.
With that said, with a team hungry for goals, bold moves may be necessary and injecting a dose of youthful excitement holds its merit and could be just what the doctor ordered.
He’d bring a palpable dose of energy to each of his shifts, and pairing this with his obvious scoring prowess could provide the finishing touch needed to create some opportunity and catalyze Petey’s performance.
While he’s often pegged as a power play specialist based on the areas from which most of his tallies come, it’s worth noting that 13 of Lekkerimäki’s 19 SHL goals came at even strength this season and his play at 5-on-5 was surprisingly effective.
Of course, that’s not to discredit his ability to produce on the man advantage. Given the Canucks’ second-worst power-play efficiency among remaining playoff teams, Lekkerimäki’s knack for precise shots from the left-side wall presents a compelling option to bolster their man advantage – whether it’s on the secondary unit or not.
There is a valid argument that comes attached to his readiness, or lack thereof, to provide effective NHL playoff hockey. However, given Tocchet’s ability to manage his spots and slide him in among the Oilers’ bottom forward lines, the reward could be worth the risk, if used effectively.
Look no further than Arturs Silovs, who was tossed into the deep end of NHL playoff hockey and has jumped through his swim lessons like a natural.
The NHL playoffs are typically never the ideal environment to try new things, but if Rick Tocchet has taught us anything, it’s that he’s not scared to veer from the typical path.
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