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Canucks have three prospects to watch at 2023 World Juniors

Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Elias Pettersson (the defenceman) will suit up for Sweden, while Aku Koskenvuo will aim to be Finland's starting goaltender.
Lekkerimaki on the bench for Sweden
The Vancouver Canucks top prospect, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, will look to make an impact for Team Sweden at the 2023 World Junior Championship.

Despite missing the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons, the Vancouver Canucks don’t have a particularly strong prospect pool. 

Heading into this season, Elite Prospects ranked the Canucks’ prospect pool 28th overall among the 32 NHL teams. The four teams below them are recent Stanley Cup winners the Colorado Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals as well as the Boston Bruins, who are currently first in the NHL. They have good reason to have depleted prospect pools; the Canucks do not.

That said, the Canucks do have more prospects at the 2023 World Junior Championship than some teams. Ten NHL teams will have fewer prospects at the tournament than the three Canucks prospects representing their countries starting on December 26 in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Moncton, New Brunswick. 

That includes the Canucks’ most important prospect, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, who general manager Patrik Allvin made his first-ever draft pick in the first round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.

Let’s take a look at the three Canucks prospects at the 2023 World Juniors and when you’ll be able to watch them over the next two weeks.

Sweden: Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Elias Pettersson

It’s no surprise that the Canucks have prospects representing Team Sweden. The Canucks have a long history with Swedish stars and have dipped back into Sweden frequently at the draft. Development camp this summer was packed with Swedish prospects, including the two friends who will play for Sweden at the World Juniors: Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Elias Pettersson.

No, the other Elias Pettersson. 

“We are many Swedes here, so I know them, especially my friend Jonathan Lekkerimäki,” said Pettersson during that development camp. “We played on the national team together and we met each other at home in Sweden.”

Now they’ll be looking to bring gold medals home to Sweden after the team fell just short of the gold-medal game at the 2022 tournament in August, winning bronze instead.

Lekkerimäki was part of that 2022 team but had an underwhelming performance, with just 3 points in 7 games. Expectations were high heading into that tournament after lighting up the World Under-18 Championship with 15 points in 6 games but Lekkerimäki was the youngest player on Sweden’s roster, so it’s understandable that he has a quieter performance.

Lekkerimäki is still just 18 but is expected to take on a larger role for Sweden, particularly with his former Under-18 coach Magnus Hävelid taking over as head coach. He’ll likely be playing on the second line with his familiar Djurgårdens linemates Noah Östlund and Liam Öhgren, though he’s played on the third line during pre-tournament games.

Of the three, Lekkerimäki has produced the least this season, with just 1 goal and 5 points in 20 Allsvenskan games compared to 11 and 14 points for Östlund and Öhgren. Lekkerimäki has found it tougher to find time and space to unleash his fantastic shot against men in the Allsvenskan and has also been out with a concussion for three weeks heading into the tournament.

The World Junior tournament almost feels like a reset button for Lekkerimäki’s season. He has an opportunity to produce against his peers and build up some confidence going into the back half of the Allsvenskan season and reestablish himself as one of the best young players in Sweden.

Meanwhile, Pettersson has been playing in the SHL. While the 18-year-old has just 2 points in 24 games, getting into that many SHL games as a defenceman at his age is still impressive.

Pettersson has mainly averaged under 10 minutes per game for Örebro HK, but he started playing a regular shift in late November, averaging around 15 minutes per game in the weeks before leaving for the World Junior Championship.

This tournament may just be about building experience for Pettersson before he takes on a larger role next year, but Sweden might end up relying on the 6’3” Pettersson’s size and skating on the back end with top defencemen Elias Salomonsson and Mattias Hävelid out with injuries and Simon Edvinsson choosing not to participate as he attempts to work his way into the Detroit Red Wings lineup. 

Sweden 2023 World Junior Schedule

  • Dec 26, 10:30 a.m. - Austria at Sweden (TSN 1/4/5)
  • Dec 27, 10:30 a.m. - Sweden at Germany (TSN 1/4/5)
  • Dec 29, 10:30 a.m. - Czechia at Sweden (TSN 1/3/5)
  • Dec 31, 3:00 p.m. - Sweden at Canada (TSN 1/4/5)

Finland: Aku Koskenvuo

Goaltender Aku Koskenvuo worked his way onto Team Finland for the World Junior Championships with some strong performances in international tournaments, even as he’s struggled to get starts with Harvard University. He’s played just two games for Harvard — a win and a loss — and has an .875 save percentage.

It remains to be seen how much Koskenvuo will play for Finland in this year’s tournament, his last chance to play at the World Juniors. He might not play at all behind Seattle Kraken second-round pick Niklas Kokko and the undrafted but highly-regarded Jani Lampinen, or he might end up being their number-one goaltender.

It’s entirely up in the air as there is no clear number one for Finland. If Finland is just looking to give the younger Kokko some experience to prepare him to be next year’s starter, then perhaps Koskenvuo will get more playing time.

Koskenvuo has all the attributes you love to see in a goaltending prospect, with great size at 6’4”, superb mobility, and great competitiveness. As is the case with most young goaltenders, he needs a lot of refinement in his technique to seal up gaps and become more efficient. 

Finland 2023 World Junior Schedule

  • Dec 26, 8:00 a.m. - Switzerland at Finland (TSN 1/4/5)
  • Dec 27, 8:00 a.m. - Slovakia at Finland (TSN 1/4/5)
  • Dec 29, 8:00 a.m. - Finland at Latvia (TSN 1/3/5)
  • Dec 31, 1:00 p.m. - Finland at United States (TSN 1/4)