Jonathan Lekkerimäki Joins Abbotsford Canucks

Jonathan Lekkerimäki’s arrival in North America is just another step in the long process of becoming a better pro hockey player.

With his season finished in the SHL, the 19-year-old winger will set up shop in Abbotsford for the next few weeks in the hopes of getting a call to return to Sweden to try out for a spot on the World Championship roster.

“It would be awesome, it’s always been a dream to play for the national team,” said Lekkerimäki. “It is a challenge. Everyone is better, they are at higher speed and have bigger guys. So, it would be challenging, of course, but we will have to see what happens.”

In an effort to help Lekkerimäki’s chances of representing his country, the Canucks decided it was best for him to practice and perhaps play with their AHL team instead of training by himself in Sweden. This short trial will also give the club an opportunity to get a better understanding of what Lekkerimäki needs to continue his development.

“We are happy to have a chance to work more closely with Jonathan over the next little while,” said Canucks General Manager Patrik Allvin. “Jeremy Colliton and his staff as well as our development team have done a great job in helping our players the past couple of seasons. We have seen a number of guys including Nils Höglander, Vasily Podkolzin, Linus Karlsson and Arshdeep Bains benefit from spending time in the AHL and developing their skillset. Over the next few weeks, Jonathan has a great opportunity to learn more about the North American game and our organization."

Like any player, what Lekkerimäki does with this time as an Abbotsford Canuck and any future opportunities is totally up to him. This taste of AHL action will not only help him prepare for the Worlds but will also get him set for training camp this fall.

“I’m excited, it’s going to be really fun,” Lekkerimäki said about coming to North America. “It is my dream to play in the NHL and if I get a chance for that, I will do everything to prepare for that to be my future. That said, right now my focus is learning as much as I can from my time with the Abbotsford Canucks.”

Lekkerimäki finished the season with 19 goals and 12 assists through 46 games played. It was a strong bounce-back year for a player who had a slow start to his pro career a couple of seasons ago because of a bout of mononucleosis.

“Over this season, I have felt really good. So, I am just trying to keep it going,” said Lekkerimäki. “I do my best every day to prepare for a game and do my best at the game. I’m also not just focused too much on the points. I just try to be better every day.”

While Lekkerimäki can lean into his offensive ability it will take more than that to succeed at the next level. The Canucks development staff wanted to see if he could add more to his game as he prepares to make the jump to North America next season.

Helping assist their European prospects has been a focus of the Canucks management group since Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford took over. Former Stanley Cup champion, Triple Gold Club member, and former Canuck, Mikael Samuelsson is at games, meeting with prospects for meals, and keeping an eye on the pulse of the SHL and other leagues in Europe.

Samuelsson spent three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks as a development coach before three seasons with an Allsvenskan league club as their General Manager. He is now in year two with the Canucks’ development team and has learned a lot about dealing with prospect development.

“When I approach a player like Lekki, I say, ‘What did they want? What are they feeling?’ It's not about my feelings,” said Samuelsson with a laugh. “This is their time to shine, and I am here to help them. I am not here to talk a lot about myself or think highly of myself. I share my thoughts, sure, but these kids are my main focus and the first thing I have to do is be able to listen to their thoughts and feelings.”

“When it comes to Jonathan, he is expecting a lot of himself and when he is the MVP of the World Junior Championships or scores crazy goals in the SHL, he stays calm within himself. He does not show any cockiness but really believes in himself and he has no reason to not believe in himself with the way he plays.”

Samuelsson is focusing on the player but also the person. He wants the young players that he is working with to know that they can feel comfortable speaking with him and know that he is in their corner for support and guidance.

“It's been really good,” said Lekkerimäki about working with Mikael Samuelsson. “He has helped me with things like one-on-one battles, being strong on the puck and how to be more active on loose pucks. He has good experience, and we have good chats with each other. I listen to him, and he will also listen to me.”

Samuelsson has had a close eye on Lekkerimäki for the past four or five years and knows him as well as anyone in the Canucks organization. Samuelsson talks a lot about developing your hockey IQ and how it is necessary for a smooth transition to pro hockey in North America.

According to Samuelsson, there was growth in how Lekkerimäki handled the puck in the neutral zone this year. He also saw a player with a high-running motor in the defensive end of the ice. That created more opportunities for him to have full-ice rushes into the offensive zone, creating the chances for Lekkerimäki to utilize his best skills.

“Every minute that he got, he deserved it,” said Samuelsson. “Almost every time that team had a scoring chance, he was involved. Offence often comes from defence and I know I sound like an old coach saying that, but it is true.”

Lekkerimäki is still young and must undergo a massive adjustment in the coming months. Getting him over to Abbotsford for the next few weeks before he heads back to try out with Sweden’s National Team is just a step in the right direction on making this player more comfortable with his upcoming full-time move to the West Coast this summer.

The road of development is a long one and the hockey club is committed to making sure that Lekkerimäki is supported and comfortable with his future in the Canucks’ organization.