Canucks selects Lekkerimäki 15th overall in 2022 NHL Entry Draft

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 not to be the consensus at all, falling all the way to fourth overall. The Montreal Canadiens drove and treated the New York Islanders to add Kirby Dach of the Chicago Blackhawks. The San Jose Sharks dropped from 11th overall for three picks.

The Vancouver Canucks were rumored to have been involved in a potential trade with the Islanders before striking a deal with the Canadiens, but it never came to fruition. Instead, the Canucks stayed where they started, in 15th overall.

With the pick, the Canucks fielded Jonathan Lekkerimäki.

“We were excited that he fell.”

Lekkerimäki is an elite goalscoring right winger for Djurgårdens IF in Sweden, splitting his time between the J20 Nationell and the SHL last season. In the Nationell, Lekkerimäki dominated with 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 and scored 7 goals in 26 games.

Lekkerimäki was rated 8th overall by Bob McKenzie and International Scouting Services, with most public draw rankings expecting him to be a top 10 pick. It was therefore a surprise when he fell to the Canucks in 15th place.

“We had rated him a little bit higher and we were excited to see him fall,” said Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin.

Lekkerimäki is only 17 and turns 18 later this month, giving him a longer development runway than some of the older players in the draft. That gives him time to add more power to his 5’11” frame, which is one of the critiques of his game. He is expected to play in the HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden’s second-tier men’s league, next season.

“A lot of these younger players need to get stronger,” Allvin said. “He is an experienced, smart player who is playing at a professional level this year. We are in no rush to win him over.”

“He has one of the fastest releases in the entire draft.”

Lekkerimäki can score however you want, with a range of shooting options that are all NHL-caliber.

“The catch-and-release, one-timer, wrist shot, snapshot, slap shot — Lekkerimäki has the tool for every occasion, and they’re all already high-end-to-elite, even by NHL standards,” reads his exploration report from Elite Prospects. “You see him shoot the puck, and it’s obviously perfect.”

Like most great goalscorers, Lekkerimäki is adept at adding some deception before firing – faking it to freeze a defender or goalkeeper, pulling the puck in his skates to change the angle, or pushing the puck wide, a more unexpected move for goalkeepers to read.

“He has one of the fastest releases in the entire draft this year,” said Will Scouching. “Pucks hit his stick and before long he changes angles and takes the puck off his stick.”

Bursting from Lekkerimäki’s stick in an instant, the puck has the speed and accuracy to beat goalkeepers from a distance, but it’s not his only offensive weapon. He also has smooth hands, which he can use to strip goalkeepers tight or weave through opponents to get to scoring areas in the center of the ice.

“He has a smooth, flowing stride.”

An important factor is that Lekkerimäki is adept at handling the puck quickly – he doesn’t drop into a shore when performing moves, but can combine his shifty skating with the puck in his hip pocket.

“He has a smooth, flowing stride that takes him quickly through all three zones of the ice and as his speed increases, his skill remains at a high level,” reads his Draft Pro Hockey exploration report. “He is able to carry the puck at full speed, forcing the opponent to back up quickly, giving him time and space to create chances.”

That makes him a dangerous menopause in transition. As he adds power, his skating should improve too as he could use a little more speed.

In addition, Lekkerimäki has decent vision and playability for a player who is ostensibly a sniper. His puck handling allows him to hold onto pucks until he can find the best pass option, often turning down below the goal line before sliding the puck into the slot for a big shot.

Lekkerimäki showed more of that game-changing side of his game at the 2022 World Under-18 Championship, where he led the tournament by 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 will be able to get in regularly to use his shot. Some of his off-puck habits are a bit raw: he doesn’t always get to the weak spots on the ice at the right time for his linemates to find him with the puck. Before Lekkerimäki can regularly score goals in the NHL, he must adjust his game from the puck, because those bags of soft serve ice cream are smaller and harder to find.

There are also some concerns on the defensive side of the ice as he struggles in puck fights and isn’t always as involved in the defensive zone as he should be. That’s not uncommon for a scoring winger, of course, and his ability to transfer the puck-up ice will help him gain possession even if he’s not going to win any Selke trophies.

With his handles and shot, Lekkerimäki may be able to score enough goals that no matter how he plays defensively, he will have room to develop that side of his game before making it to the NHL.

Lekkerimäki is an incredibly exciting player for Canucks fans to watch develop as he will be producing highlights for years to come.

It’s hard to score goals in the NHL – Lekkerimäki has the potential to make it look remarkably easy.

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