Lekkerimaki hopes to be next in a long line of Swedish Canucks stars

There’s a little bit of Elias Pettersson in the way Jonathan Lekkerimaki shoots the puck, which is understandable given the Vancouver Canucks star is an idol of the team’s latest draft pick.

The Canucks selected Lekkermaki from Swedish club Djurgardens with the 15th overall roster of the National Hockey League draft Thursday in Montreal. And since Vancouver hadn’t made a first-round pick since 2019, the scoring 17-year-old immediately becomes the Canucks’ top contender.

Many draft forecasts — and the Canucks’ own draft list — had Lekkerimaki in the top-10.

“Our scouts pounded on the table; they really wanted to pick him out,” says general manager Patrik Allvin. “It was an easy decision. We’ve liked him all year. We appreciate his ability to score goals. He is a dynamic, attacking player who has the ability to score, but can also play. He may be a lighter version of Lucas Raymond and how he plays in Detroit. There are a lot of similarities here with Jonathan.”

Raymond, a fourth overall pick in 2020, scored 23 goals and 57 points for the Red Wings last season and should have been a Calder Trophy finalist.

Raymond and Lekkerimaki are both five-foot-11 Swedes, and Allvin’s selection of the latter on Thursday added to the Canucks’ rich history involving Swedish players.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who will work with Lekkerimaki in their player development roles with the Canucks, have just been voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lekkerimaki is aware of the twins and the Canucks’ strong bond with his country, but Pettersson is the Vancouver player he followed most closely as a teenager.

“They’ve had such good Swedes,” said Lekkerimaki. “I like Elias Pettersson, so it’s going to be fun. I have seen him many times in Sweden. I like his shot. He is a great inspiration to me. I can’t talk, I’m so excited.”

As a junior, Lekkerimaki has scored 20 goals in 26 appearances for Djurgardens this season and led the Under-18 World Championship with five goals and 15 points, including a goal and three assists in Sweden’s 6-4 win over the United States. in the gold medal match in Germany two months ago.

Like Pettersson, Lekkerimaki has a quick release and can score anywhere, be it a wrist shot or a heavy slacker. But when you compare the two, people have to step on the brakes a bit.

Pettersson was a fifth overall pick in 2017 after scoring 19 goals and 41 points for Timra in the Swedish Second Division Professional League, followed by a dominant 56-point season for Vaxjo in the Swedish Hockey League. In call-ups to Djurgardens’ SHL team this season, Lekkerimaki had seven goals and nine points in 26 games.

But there is one similarity worth noting: both players faced questions about their build – Pettersson because he was thin and Lekkerimaki, until recently, because he was small and light. External doubts about Pettersson’s strength have been a fiery motivator for him, and the 23-year-old has proved to everyone that he is strong enough to shine in the NHL. Now the 170-pound Lekkerimaki must do the same as he develops.

“I think I need to be more competitive,” said Lekkerimaki. “I have some big steps to take, but I’m looking forward to becoming a top player. I think of course I need to be smarter and bigger. But it takes time.”

He traveled to the service from Stockholm with his parents, Peter and Ellinor, and his older sister, Mikaela. Peter runs his own construction company and Ellinor is a nurse.

“It’s his childhood dream to be here today,” Mikaela told Sportsnet. “He’s always had one goal and that’s to get good at hockey. We’re just so proud. It’s been an amazing journey to see him at this point in his life today.”

When asked if her brother had any doubts during his trip, Mikaela said: “Absolutely, he has. People have said that he was small for his age and that he needed to grow muscles and everything. And yes, that pushed him. He has always worked hard for this. He is willing to do the work. He knows that nothing comes for free. He’s very dedicated.”

Remarkably, Lekkerimaki’s junior rights in the Canadian Hockey League belong to the Vancouver Giants, who claimed him in the import draft last week.

No decision has been made on where he will play next season, but it certainly helps the Canucks get him to Vancouver that they can offer all of their NHL resources, including coaching the Sedins.

Allvin said Lekkerimaki will attend the Vancouver development camp next week.

As one of the youngest players in the draft, he won’t turn 18 until July 24.

“We are delighted that our development (staff) will have the opportunity to work more closely with him and get to know him even better,” said Allvin. “But we are not going to force decisions here. We haven’t talked about next year yet.

“All the hard work starts now. Getting drawn is great, but then you realize how hard it is to get to the next level. We’re going to help and support him, but I think he’s an extremely driven guy. He understands which areas of his game he needs to improve in order to take the next step.”

The Canucks have five picks left on the second day of the draft on Friday, missing only the second-round roster sent to the Arizona Coyotes last summer in the blockbuster trade for Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Allvin insisted the team on Thursday would not come close to dealings involving JT Miller or anyone else. He said “the status is the same” and that he feels no urgency to make a quick decision about Miller, the Canucks’ top scorer entering the final year of his contract, and may prove unaffordable in Vancouver during his next.

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