As you might expect with the 15th-overall pick, the arrival of Jonathan Lekkerimaki won’t have an immediate impact on the Vancouver Canucks line-up, barring some type of divine intervention. There is a develop process that lies ahead for the 6-foot, 170-pound right winger who will need to grow physically, continue to develop his skating, and learn to play a more complete brand of hockey.
For now he’s slated to play in the second tier pro league HockeyAllsvenskan in Sweden next season, although the Vancouver Giants have just drafted Lekkerimaki in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) import draft. Vancouver Canucks General Manager Patrik Allvin didn’t rule out that option.
Alvin said the Canucks had a couple of options with the 15th-pick, players that they had interest in that remained available. They chose a winger who some pundits and scouts had ranked in the top-ten of the NHL Draft. He was the 6th-ranked ‘International Skater’ on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s final pre-draft scouting list.
“At the end of the day, we felt Jonathan has a chance to be a difference maker,” Allvin said.
At one point the Montreal Canadiens showed extreme interest in the lanky winger, took him out for a steak dinner for their meetings, and contemplated trading up to get another pick in the first round. The Habs took Juraj Slafkovski, a Slovakian winger, first overall. They took another Slovakian winger at number-26, Filip Mesar.
Montreal Hockey Now NHL Draft pundit Marco D’amico did an extensive write-up on Lekkerimaki.
Lekkerimäki is one of the best goal-scorers in this draft and took the Swedish J-20 league by storm this season, posting 20 goals and 15 assists for 35 points in 26 games. His exceptional performances at the U-20 level earned him some time with Djurgårdens’ main team in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), where he put up a very respectable seven goals and two assists for nine points in 26 games playing mostly in a bottom-six role. Lekkerimäki truly shined at the U-18 World Championships, where he led his team to a goal medal, all while leading the tournament in scoring with 15 points in just six games.
Lekkerimäki plays a very interesting game, predicated on good puck protection and a strong nose for the net. He has one of the more impressive releases in this draft class and uses it to unleash shots from just about everywhere in the offensive zone. He generates offence by remaining constantly implicated in the play, rarely ever giving up or showing signs of fatigue. Most NHL Draft Rankings have him in the 7th to 15th range, which means that, if the Montreal Canadiens value him as highly as some sources seem to think, he could very well be a target the Canadiens could trade up to select.
For now Lekkerimaki will head to Vancouver for the week-long Vancouver Canucks Development Camp that starts on Sunday on the UBC campus. The first day will likely only consist of off-ice work, physicals, and the like. The camp runs through the 15th of July and will feature a handful of Swedish prospects recently signed by the Canucks, including Linus Karlsson, a recent opponent of Lekkerimaki.
“He’s a very good player,” Lekkerimaki said, “I played with him four or five years ago, I know he’s very good.”
Speaking of a concentration of Swedish prospects, two other Djurgardens junior players were selected Thursday in the 1st-round. With the very next pick at number-16, the Buffalo Sabres selected centre Noah Ostlund, followed later by the Minnesota Wild taking left wing Liam Ohgren at number-19.