Canucks prospects: Lekkerimaki 'more explosive, faster and bigger'

In an exclusive interview, Jonathan Lekkerimaki says his game has hit another level this season. His coach agrees

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Jonathan Lekkerimaki can’t point to one part of his game that’s better since last season.

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That’s because, to the talented 19-year-old, his game has never been better.

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“Everything,” he says without hesitation. “Being more explosive. Faster and bigger. Everything.”

The confidence in his voice cannot be understated. The last time he was on the line, the Vancouver Canucks’ 2022 first-rounder was riding the bus in the Swedish juniors, sent down for a stint from the second-tier Allsvenskan to regain his mojo after a bout of mono and injuries threatened to derail his post-draft campaign.

This time, he’s riding high in his new Orebro digs, having scored in the first three games of the SHL season for his new first-place team — tying a record for junior-aged players — and knowing how to bounce back should adversity strike again.

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“I think I learned from it. Sometimes it goes up and down,” Lekkerimaki said on Wednesday night, winding it down before Thursday’s tilt against Malmo.

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The kid they call ‘Lekki’ looked every bit the better player on Thursday against Malmo in a 3-2 shootout loss. Skating on the second line, the 5-foot-11, 172-pound right-shot winger was electric in the early going, setting up linemate Robert Leino for a dangerous shot that went off the post midway through the first period, then stickhandling past a defender at the side of the net before slipping the puck in front for a glorious chance.

His line was the best of the night, with Leino later scoring and Lekkerimaki dangling the Malmo goalie and slipping the puck under his pads to convert during the shootout.

First-year Orebro head coach Johan Hedberg — a former NHL goaltender who played with the Canucks during the 2003-04 season — went with Lekkerimaki again in a do-or-die shootout situation, but the Huddinge product was stopped on a quick forehand move by goaltender Daniel Marmenlind.

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Hedberg joined CHEK TV’s Donnie and Dhali show on Monday, telling the hosts that Lekkerimaki’s game has progressed much further than expected.

“He’s been great. What everybody talks about with Jonathan is his shot, but his playmaking skills are elite too,” Hedberg said. “He’s much more structured than I thought he would be. He’s actually pretty sound defensively and is taking good responsibility out there.”

Hedberg said Lekkerimaki has “big-time” NHL potential but needs to continue to get stronger, despite having “put on some muscles” over the summer.

“That’s the main thing for him. Otherwise his talent set is good enough to be the top player in the (SHL), eventually.”

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Still, despite three goals in five games and much more involved play across the board, Lekkerimaki has his detractors, who continue to label him a perimeter player.

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That’s fine with Lekkerimaki, who stopped paying attention to his critics a long time ago.

“Just shut it out. Just be myself. Play my best.”

Vancouver Canucks’ Joni Jurmo in action during development camp at the Doug Mitchel Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver B.C. on July 4, 2023. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

Elsewhere: Defensive prospect Joni Jurmo (2020, Rd. 3) continues to play second-pairing minutes for Ilves of the Finnish Liiga and notched his first assist of the season last week in a 4-2 win over Lukko. Jurmo, 21, used his wheels to lead a rush up the ice and made a smart pass under the stick of a reaching defender for the primary helper.

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The 6-foot-5, 209-pound left-shot D-man is averaging around 15 minutes a game this season and has one point and a plus-1 rating in eight games.

With the Canucks signing a number of young defencemen this past off-season, Jurmo appears to be in a make-or-break campaign to earn his first NHL contract.

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