Lekkerimäki is a pure goalscorer out of Sweden.
The first round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft was wild.
Consensus number one pick Shane Wright turned out to not be the consensus at all, falling all the way to fourth overall. The Montreal Canadiens wheeled and dealt with the New York Islanders in order to add Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks. The San Jose Sharks traded down from 11th overall for three picks.
The Vancouver Canucks were rumored to be involved in a potential trade with the Islanders before they made a deal with the Canadians, but it never came to fruition. Instead, the Canucks stayed right where they started, at 15th overall.
With the pick, the Canucks drafted Jonathan Lekkerimäki.
“We were excited that he was falling.”
Lekkerimäki is an elite goalscoring right winger out of Djurgårdens IF in Sweden, splitting his time last season between the J20 Nationell and the SHL. In the Nationell, Lekkerimäki dominated, scoring 20 goals and 35 points in just 26 games, second only to his linemate, Liam Öhgren, in points per game.
The difference between Lekkerimäki and Öhgren is that Lekkerimäki produced in the SHL, scoring 7 goals in 26 games.
Lekkerimäki was rated as high as 8th overall by Bob McKenzie and International Scouting Services, with most public draft rankings expecting him to be a top-10 pick. Accordingly, it was a surprise when he fell to the Canucks at 15th.
“We had him a little bit higher rated and we were excited that he was falling,” said Canucks’ general manager Patrik Allvin.
Lekkerimäki is still just 17, turning 18 later this month, giving him a longer runway for development than some of the older players in the draft. That will give him time to add more strength to his 5’11” frame, which is one of the critiques of his game. He’s expected to play in the HockeyAllsvenskan next season, Sweden’s second-tier men’s league.
“A lot of these younger players need to get stronger,” said Allvin. “He’s a skilled, smart player, playing at the pro level this year. There’s no rush with us to get him over.”
“He has one of the quickest releases in the entire draft.”
Lekkerimäki can score any way you want, with an array of shooting options that are all NHL caliber.
“The catch-and-release, one-timer, wrist shot, snapshot, slap shot — Lekkerimäki has the tool for any occasion, and they’re all already high-end-to-elite even by the NHL’s standards,” reads his scouting report from Elite Prospects. “You watch him shoot the puck, and it’s self-evidently perfect.”
Like most great goalscorers, Lekkerimäki is adept at adding some deception before shooting — faking to freeze a defenseman or goaltender, pulling the puck into his skates to change the angle, or pushing the puck wide, a more unexpected move for goaltenders to read.
“He has one of the quickest releases in the entire draft this year,” said Will Scouching. “Pucks hit his stick and it does not take very long for him to change angles and get the puck off of his stick.”
The puck simply erupts from Lekkerimäki’s stick at a moment’s notice and has the velocity and accuracy to beat goaltenders from a distance but it’s not his only offensive weapon. He also has slick hands, which he can use to undress goaltenders in tight or weave through opponents to get to scoring areas in the middle of the ice.
“He has a smooth, fluid stride.”
An important factor is that Lekkerimäki is adept at handling the puck at speed — he doesn’t drop into a coast when he pulls off moves, but can combine his shifty skating with the puck in his hip pocket.
“He has a smooth, fluid stride that carries him quickly through all three zones of the ice and as his speed increases, his skill stays at a high level,” reads his scouting report from Draft Pro Hockey. “He is capable of carrying the puck at full speed, forcing the opposition to back off quickly, giving him time and space to create chances.”
That makes him a dangerous threat in transition. As he adds strength, his skating should improve as well, as he could use a little bit more speed.
On top of all of that, Lekkerimäki has decent vision and playmaking ability for a player who is ostensibly a sniper. His puckhandling lets him hold onto pucks until he can find the best passing option, frequently rotating down below the goal line before slipping the puck into the slot for a great chance.
Lekkerimäki showed more of that playmaking side of his game at the 2022 World Under-18 Championship, where he led the tournament in scoring with 5 goals and 10 assists in 6 games, winning the gold medal with Sweden.
Areas where Lekkerimäki needs to improve
Offensively, the biggest question for Lekkerimäki is whether he’ll be able to regularly get to the inside to use his shot. Some of his off-puck habits are a little raw: he doesn’t always get to the soft spots on the ice at the right time for his linemates to find him with the puck. Before Lekkerimäki can score goals regularly in the NHL, he needs to adjust his game away from the puck, because those pockets of soft ice are smaller and harder to find.
There are also some concerns on the defensive side of the ice, as he struggles in puck battles and isn’t always as engaged in the defensive zone as he needs to be. That’s not unusual for a goal-scoring winger, of course, and his ability to transition the puck up ice will help him drive possession, even if he’s not going to win any Selke Trophies.
With his handles and shot, Lekkerimäki could potentially pile up enough goals that he won’t matter how he plays defensively, but he’ll have room to develop that side of his game before he reaches the NHL.
Lekkerimäki is an incredibly exciting player for Canucks fans to watch develop, as he’ll be producing highlight-reel plays for years to come.
It’s hard to score goals in the NHL — Lekkerimäki has the potential to make it look remarkably easy.