WJC: Canucks prospects settle for Silver at 2024 World Juniors

Photo credit:@orebrohockey on IG
Dave Hall
1 month ago
Before this year’s World Juniors action began, many had predicted a Sweden vs. USA Championship showdown.
If you were one of those who foresaw it, well done.
The 2024 World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden, officially reached its main event with a rematch of the intense 2022 U18 Gold Medal final.
A majority of the players in today’s final match had taken part in that game, which resulted in a Swedish Gold Medal.
With that in mind, it was evident that there was a sense of rivalry and bad blood, setting the stage for an intense and highly anticipated championship clash between Sweden and the United States.
“I feel like we definitely have U-18 Worlds on our mind,” US Captain Rutger McGroarty, said. “I feel like … I mean, I’m going to say it: We don’t like those guys and they don’t like us, so it’s going to get real personal. It’s going to get emotional, but we have to stay even-keel.”
The game began with both teams coming out swinging and exchanging opportunities, with Jonathan Lekkerimäki grabbing the game’s first shot.
One of the keys for each team was to eliminate power play opportunities, given the lethal capabilities of both sides. However, Sweden picked up the first chance to work on the power play, but despite three shots on target, they failed to open the scoring.
At the tail-end of the period, on a delayed penalty of their own, the USA seized the opportunity and opened the scoring with a terrific redirect from Gabe Perrault, giving the United States a 1-0 lead.
Despite the goal, the momentum felt like it was on Sweden’s side thanks to some tremendous offensive possession, coupled with the enthusiastic crowd at the Scandinavium firmly behind them.
However, the team went to the dressing room down one after 20 minutes.
Within minutes of the second period, Sweden evened the score. After a d-to-d pass from Elias Pettersson, Otto Stenberg deflected a Matthias Hävelid point shot to level the score.
As expected, the goal set off an earthquake, with the crowd erupting into a craze.
Midway through the period, the US executed a nice ring-around pass to set up Isaac Howard. Tom Willander was unable to catch him, leading to the first time that the Swedish defender had been on the ice for a goal against over the entire tournament.
The United States extended their lead with a third goaland a somewhat weak one that the Swedish goaltender likely wants back.
However, with less than a minute remaining in the second period, Tom Willander activated into the offensive zone and was hauled down, drawing a penalty to send Sweden on their second power play.
This set the stage for Jonathan Lekkerimaki to go to work.
With just five seconds remaining in the period, the Swedish sniper unleashed his patented one-timer to cut the lead, sending Sweden to the dressing room down by just a goal.
The late-period goal injected new life into the game, setting the stage for a thrilling final period of the championship clash.
The momentum gained by Sweden from Lekkerimaki’s late-period goal was quickly squashed as Zeev Buium, a 2024 draft-eligible, doubled the lead once again for the United States with a deadly one-timer.
With 13 minutes remaining in the third period, Swedish forward Noah Östlund took an unfortunate double-minor high-sticking penalty, providing the United States with a four-minute power play. Although they didn’t capitalize on the opportunity, it consumed valuable time and made it challenging for Sweden to mount a comeback.
From there, the United States made no mistakes, closing the game out with insurance and ultimately securing this year’s Gold Medal with a 6-2 victory over the host team.
Despite a valiant effort by Sweden, the United States proved to be the stronger team in the championship clash, culminating in a well-deserved victory.
The trio of Vancouver Canuck prospects representing the club this year all settle for a Silver Medal.

Final thoughts on the Vancouver Canucks prospects

Jonathan Lekkerimäki

While he may not have secured a Gold Medal, this tournament undoubtedly felt like the Jonathan Lekkerimäki show.
In his third appearance, as a 19-year-old, he consistently delivered high-performance efforts in each of Sweden’s seven matches, collecting points in every game.
Whether it was driving play, accumulating shots, or scoring clutch goals from his preferred spot on the ice, Lekkerimäki left no stone unturned in his efforts to contribute to his home country.
While his offensive prowess is what pops, he displays strong two-way ability over these seven games, contributing with a strong forecheck, and getting back to cover on defense. As a slight framed forward, there are certainly areas in need of working on, but overall, it was a strong performance through and through.
He finished the tournament sharing the lead in goals (7) and shots (30), leading the charge in power-play goals (5), and ranking third in total points (10).
To cap off an outstanding tournament, Jonathan Lekkerimäki was named this year’s World Junior Most Valuable Player, marking the first time that a Vancouver Canucks prospect has received this honour.
Despite falling short of the ultimate team goal, Lekkerimäki can hold his head high as the tournament’s top performer, showcasing his exceptional skill and impact on the international stage.
He heads back to Örebro, where he continues to lead the U24 circuit with 10 goals and 16 points.
He finished the tournament with seven goals, two assists, a plus-2 rating and a tournament MVP.

Tom Willander

With a few exceptions, the World Junior Championship is typically considered a tournament for 19-year-olds.
With that in mind, this tournament should be seen as nothing but a strong performance for Tom Willander.
While his three points may not stand out on the scoresheet, the 18-year-old contributed in various aspects and played a crucial role in the tournament’s second most effective penalty kill.
His aggressive demeanor and elite-level skating made it extremely challenging for opponents to navigate around him and beat him on the outside, which is on brand with his typical fame. As expected, he showcased strong gap control and an active stick throughout the tournament.
In the most critical game, Willander, alongside his defensive partner Theo Lindstein, allowed a goal to be scored with them on the ice. However, that was just the first goal conceded by the pair over the entire tournament, which is an extremely impressive feat.
They each finished tied for third in plus/minus with a plus-9, trailing only a list of American skaters from an incredibly offensive team.
As expected from a young defender, there were moments of lapses, and certainly areas to work on. His decision-making with some of his transitions were questionable at times, but he usually did a good job at covering up for himself and recovering.
Even if this wasn’t his first experience at a World Junior tournament, there are numerous positives to take away from Willander’s performance. Considering it was his debut, it makes his outing all the more impressive.
He returns to Boston University, where he leads the Terriers in plus/minus with a plus-13 rating. With another year of eligibility, we can expect him to return next year and play an even larger role for the Swedish team.
He finished the tournament with a goal, two assists and a plus-9 rating.

Elias Pettersson

While he finished with just two assists and a minus-2 on his tournament ledger, Elias Pettersson’s statistics do not tell the whole story. The 19-year-old’s impact went beyond the scoresheet.
Throughout the tournament, Pettersson was a physical presence, logging significant minutes and playing tough, demanding hockey.
On three occasions, he led the Swedes in ice time, with one of his games topping out at 23:12. Alongside Willander (separate units), he played a pivotal role in the team’s successful penalty kill and made life extremely challenging around the net for opponents.
While Pettersson’s tournament had its imperfections, including being on the ice for most of Sweden’s goals against (though some were unrelated to his efforts), his two-way presence was encouraging, and while he did not display it on the scoresheet, he made strong transitions and continues to offer very intriguing NHL upside.
Surprisingly, despite throwing out his body nearly every shift, he only finished with four penalty minutes over the entire tournament.
Overall, it was a strong performance for Pettersson, likely capturing the attention of Canucks fans eagerly anticipating his potential arrival with the Abbotsford Canucks, possibly as early as this season.
He finished the tournament with two assists, a minus-2 rating and several big game hits.

Final standings

Gold – United States
Silver – Sweden
Bronze – Czechia
4th – Finland
5th – Canada
6th – Slovakia
7th – Switzerland
8th – Latvia
9th – Germany
10th – Norway (relegated)
That concludes the 2024 World Junior Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden.

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