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The Tape: Breaking down Jonathan Lekkerimäki’s brief stint with the Abbotsford Canucks

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Photo credit:X/@abbycanucks
Tyson Cole
1 month ago
It was a whirlwind past ten days for Jonathan Lekkerimäki, who made his much-anticipated North American debut by playing six games with the Abbotsford Canucks.
Over that span, Lekkerimäki finished with one goal, one assist, and a +2 rating. The Swedish sniper registered 13 shots on goal, reaching a high of five in his AHL debut against the Manitoba Moose.
As his time in North America draws to a close, we thought it’d be a great idea to look over the tape.
For those unaware, Lekkerimäki was always going to depart the AHL if named to Sweden’s World Championship tournament roster. Abbotsford’s next set of games will happen this weekend on April 12th and 13th. Unfortunately, Team Sweden’s training camp kickstarts on April 14th, meaning fans will have to wait until next season to see Lekkerimäki in person again.
“Just learning the league,” is what Abbotsford Canucks Head Coach Jeremy Colliton said he hopes Lekkerimäki gains from his short stint in Abbotsford. “I think it’s important for him to understand the task ahead of him to adjust to the North American game.”
That adjustment process began with Lekkerimäki’s first two games against the Colorado Eagles, which were fairly uneventful for him. While he failed to register a point, his two-way play stood out. Lekkerimäki was willing to engage in 50/50 battles along the boards and the neutral zone while embracing the perpetual physicality seldom seen during his Swedish league tenure. Through those first two games on the road, Lekkerimäki had just one shot on goal.
Beginning with his third AHL game, Lekkerimäki’s play improved noticeably, specifically in finding ways to get his offensive juices flowing.

Game 3 vs. Manitoba

Lekkerimäki started this game off with an impressive defensive play in his own end. 
He pursues the puck carrier, limiting the opposition’s space to maneuver.
Lekkerimäki never takes his eyes off the play, reading that teammate Sheldon Dries is about to get beat. So, he jumps the play, steals the puck, and passes it off to clear the zone—just a simple heads-up defensive play from a player mostly known for his offensive game. 
Here is another play where his defence shines through—this time, it leads to offence. Lekkerimäki lifts the stick of a Moose player in the slot and, in one slick motion, passes it right to Tristen Nielsen. With a defender activating off the line, Nielsen immediately passes the puck back to Lekkerimäki, springing him and Dries on a two-on-one.
 
Speaking post-game, Colliton complimented the young Swede’s defensive plays in the first period: “The offensive guys, if they’re conscientious, typically they have the ability to be good defensive players because they read the play and have a good stick.”
In his North American debut, Lekkerimäki displayed that conscientious, cerebral play numerous times. In just his third game, Lekkerimäki displayed an ability to read an AHL cycle, create turnovers, and generate scoring chances going the other way. 
Jumping to the second period, Lekkerimäki again showed off his speed and defensive capabilities.
Covering for a pinching Nick Cicek, Lekkerimäki catches up to the Moose forward to cut off his angle. Using his stick to apply pressure, Lekkerimäki reads the carrier’s attempted blind backhand pass perfectly and sends the loose puck deep behind his goal line for his defenceman to recover.
On this sequence, Lekkerimäki looked almost too fast for his own good.
After springing behind the defence after a neutral zone turnover, Lekkerimäki nudged the puck a bit too far ahead of himself, almost losing control. Luckily, he extended out to sweep the puck back to himself and quickly rifle a shot on the goaltender. Due to Lekkerimäki losing the puck, the Moose goaltender was able to step out of the box to leave little space to score. 
Later on this shift, he would find himself all alone with the goaltender again but would miss the net wide left.
This play would cap off the best offensive performance from Lekkerimäki during this stint. He picks up the loose puck in the neutral zone and skates the puck into the coverage. He shows awareness by checking behind him to find John Stevens for a drop pass. Lekkerimäki immediately opens up his stance and slides left to provide Stevens with the one-timer option.
“He found himself good areas to score,” Colliton said about Lekkerimäki’s debut in Abbotsford. “Hopefully, he can gain confidence from that. He’s a guy that a big part of his identity is he scores in those situations. So if you can get a little more volume like he did tonight, it’s only a matter of time until he breaks through.”
Lekkerimäki would finish second on the team in shots on goal with five, three more than his first two games combined. 

Game 4 vs. Manitoba

“Board play. A lot of battles along the boards to get pucks in and pucks out. That’s the (biggest) difference.”
That’s what Lekkerimäki said was the most significant adjustment he had to make from the SHL to the AHL.
Well, there was no time wasted in this game before Lekkerimäki showed how quickly his board battle game had improved. 
Despite being relatively undersized at 5’11” and 172 pounds, Lekkerimäki got physical along the boards, muscled his check to a knee, and knocked the puck loose.
The Moose player regained possession. However, it was a positive sign for his development to see him be more physical along the boards the next game after explaining how that was his biggest adjustment.
When asked about his new teammate’s play, Aatu Räty said, “Lekkerimäki is a threat every time he has the puck.”
That statement bodes true in this clip as he demonstrated the playmaking side of his game. After noticing the Moose executing a change, Lekkerimäki stays open along the right wall, pulling a defender and allowing Max Sasson to break in for a clear look, one-on-one with the goaltender. Lekkermäki shows off his slick hands by sending a saucer pass for Sasson to skate onto for a high-danger scoring chance. 
There were not too many clips from Lekkerimäki in this game, but he still had a decent game despite going pointless with just a single shot on goal.

Game 5 vs. Coachella Valley

Lekkerimäki would have new linemates for his fifth of the season, playing on the right side with Arshdeep Bains and Stevens. Three seconds into his first shift with his new linemates, Lekkerimäki drew a tripping penalty that sent the Canucks to the powerplay.
“He’s responsible; he plays a mature game,” Sheldon Dries said about playing with Lekkerimäki. “He’s playing a high-level game, he’s smart, and he knows where to go on the ice.”
Lekkerimäki demonstrates all of the sentiments Dries is talking about in this clip.
Lekkerimäki gets himself open for a pass from behind the net and then makes the smart play to stretch the ice further with a pass back to the defenceman. Jett Woo swings the puck left to his partner, which gives Lekkerimäki an open lane to drive the net for a potential one-timer or rebound chance. Unfortunately, the pass to the net was blocked, but his situational awareness highlights Dries’ comments perfectly.
I must say, I have been very impressed with his speed, especially the speed he demonstrated here.
Lekkerimäki grabs possession of the puck just past his own blue line with the opposing defenders a step past the centre line. By the time the Firebirds’ defenders reach their blue line, Lekkerimäki is in line with them, powering through to split the defence. Had it not been for a stretched-out poke check from Firebirds defender Gustav Olofsson, Lekkerimäki would have had himself a breakaway. 
Following the game against the Moose, Dries remarked, “[Lekkerimäki] knows how to shoot the puck, that’s for sure, so it’s a matter of time before one hits the back of the net for him.” 
Right, he was.
After five games and 11 shots, Lekkerimäki found the back of the net with a snipe shot from the high slot. The Canucks dominated on this sequence, controlling possession for 57 seconds in the offensive zone before finally cracking the Firebirds’ defence.
“Finally, I get a goal,” Lekkerimäki said when asked how scoring his first AHL goal felt. 
Lekkerimäki almost had another in the game after ripping a one-timer off the post from the slot.
In the sequence, Lekkerimäki shows off his elite edges, stopping on a dime twice to create space. First, in the neutral zone, he hits Bains with a pass for the zone entry. Second, in the high slot, Captain Chase Wouters finds him for the cross-ice pass after picking up Bains’ carry-in.
Aatu Räty would later add that Lekkerimäki’s release on his shot is “unreal.” He sure showed off that unreal release on this shot attempt.
The Firebirds would tie the game in the dying seconds. Lekkerimäki had just one shift in overtime, but he looked extra dangerous with all that open ice. The Firebirds would steal this game as they found they scored with under two minutes remaining.
On top of his first goal, Lekkerimäki registered four shots on goal and a plus-1 rating. 

Game 6 vs. Coachella Valley

This game was ugly for everybody. The Firebirds would take a lead in the first thirty seconds and never look back, winning by a final score of 7-2.
Despite this, there were a few Lekkerimäki highlights worth pointing out.
Lekkerimäki skates in on the forecheck and goes around behind the net but accidentally loses his footing and takes out the goalie. His mistake led to a scoring chance, as the puck somehow found its way to the corner, where he was all alone. He checks his surroundings, sees Stevens streaking to the faceoff circle, and makes a no-look pass while absorbing a hit.
The 19-year-old’s vision and awareness after recovering from a spill were quite impressive in this sequence.
Bains and Lekkerimäki showed some chemistry with a couple of give-and-goes along the left wall of the offensive zone. Bains took Lekkerimäki’s pass behind the net, gaining speed, and found Stevens in front of the net for a tap-in. 
Later, after gaining the zone, the Bains-Lekk duo executed another give-and-go, leading to a sharp-angle shot from Lekkerimäki. 
 
Notice how little time and space Lekkerimäki has to get the shot off. This leads to another example of the elite release that Räty pointed out.
All things considered, I think Lekkerimäki had an excellent six-game stint in Abbotsford. He displayed all of the offensive prowess that Canucks fans knew he possessed, but it was the defensive responsibility he showed that surprised the most. Lekkerimäki’s tenacity on the forecheck and burning speed suggest his game should translate easily to North America.
“He’s got high-end talent, and he’s a really good shooter. I just try to get him the puck as I can,” John Stevens said about playing alongside the Swedish sniper. 
The only critique I can offer of his game—and it barely counts as a critique—is that he does lose battles along the boards when up against bigger stronger opposition.
In this sequence, Bains grabs the loose puck and gets it back to Lekkerimäki, who’s then easily knocked over and pushed off the puck.
 
Bulking up will help him excel at this level. He is only 19 years old and has plenty of time to fill out.
Again, it’s barely a criticism. He showed very well in his North American debut.
Overall, Lekkerimäki is not a selfish offense-only player. He takes quick shifts, never risking his team’s offensive cycle by overstaying his welcome on tired legs. He’s deadly on the power play while playing along the half-wall as the power play’s shooting threat. That’s another thing: he’s clearly not afraid to fire the puck. Unfortunately, the AHL doesn’t track shot attempts, but based on this limited sample, you can tell he generates a lot
Well, Canucks fans, what did you think about Lekkerimäki’s brief stint in the AHL?
Join Sekeres & Price and the CanucksArmy crew on Saturday April 20th at the Hollywood Theatre in Kitsilano for a special tribute to their late friend, Jason Botchford, presented by Fountain Tire. “Bro, Do Your Playoffs” is a media event celebrating the life and legacy of Jason that will feature shared memories, special guests, an exclusive performance from The Matinée and the celebration of Vancouver’s triumphant return to the playoffs. This event is in support of the BC Mental Health Foundation. Get your tickets now at https://www.showpass.com/hollywood-brodoyourplayoffs/

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