Building Blue: Jonathan Lekkerimäki Prepares for North America in the Next Chapter of his Young Hockey Career

Jonathan Lekkerimäki performed at a higher level this season and showed why he was deserving to be selected 15th overall in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.

He was named Most Valuable Player of the World Junior Championships, had the most goals, assists, and points in the SHL from a player under the age of 20, and got himself a six-game AHL stint to get used to the North American pro game.

All-in-all, the year went quite well for the youngster who will turn 20 this July.

Health was a major factor in the turnaround for Lekkerimäki. He was able to build muscle last summer and keep it on so that he could be reliable throughout the year with his SHL club Örebro.

He scored 19 goals and added 12 assists in the season but was most proud of how he took steps on the defensive side of the ice.

“I improved my play off the puck and my overall game,” said Lekkerimäki about what progression he is most proud of this season. “I think that was where I took the biggest step last year.”

Lekkerimäki enjoyed his SHL season and believes that he took the right steps in development at this point in his career. While putting in the work and improving his play without the puck is most important, he also admitted that it is fun to score goals.

The 19-year-old worked his way into the AHL lineup for six games this past season and notched a goal and an assist with the Abbotsford Canucks. Though his time was short with Abbotsford, he learned a lot of valuable lessons and feels that the time spent in the AHL will help him hit the ground running in the fall.

“It was a good experience for me to play a few games in the AHL and I learned that it's a tough league, it is a fast league and there is a lot of physical play. It was good to play in those types of games,” Lekkerimäki said.

This summer is an important one for the young winger as he looks to transition his game to playing in a smaller rink full-time. Lekkerimäki has never prepared for a season of pro hockey in North America but did learn a lot about what worked well for him to stay physically fit and healthy last season.

He did not take much time off for the offseason and started his offseason training at the end of May. This long runway will give Lekkerimäki a chance to come into training camp and show that he can fit in with the NHL and AHL players at camp.

“I need to get stronger and bigger so I can take some hits and make some hits too,” said Lekkerimäki about coming over the pond and playing in North America. “I like to be a physical player, maybe the most when I’m mad.”

Improving his skating is another offseason goal for Lekkerimäki so that he will be able to create space for himself in the North American game.

When asked about what he wants to show to the Canucks’ coaches at training camp, Lekkerimäki spoke about wanting to display his strengths and letting them see the type of player that he can be.

One of the strengths of Lekkerimäki’s game is his work on the man advantage. He primarily played the left half-wall in the SHL but saw time in the bumper with Abbotsford in his AHL stint.

“I love playing with the puck on my stick,” said Lekkerimäki about his favourite part of being on a power play unit. “I like the man-advantage because we are getting lots of pressure on the goalies and then hopefully scoring too.”

Lekkerimäki has seen his confidence steadily rise throughout the 2023-24 hockey year and he now takes all his good vibes into the offseason, where he is already working to prepare himself for the new challenge of playing his rookie season in North America.

Next year is certainly not going to be easy for the 19-year-old but there is a support system in place from the organization to give him the best chance to develop and grow his game.