Vancouver Canucks prospect Jonathan Lekkerimäki has had a quiet tournament at the 2023 World Junior Championship so far but he came through with a clutch play in overtime against Czechia on Thursday.
The Czechs had already dispatched Canada in their tournament opener, stunning the host nation with a 5-2 win, so it was clear they would be Sweden’s toughest test yet. That proved to be true, as Czechia out-shot Sweden 35-to-24 — partly because they were trailing for a large chunk of the game — and pushed Sweden to overtime.
That’s where Lekkerimäki picked up his one point of the game, bringing him to three points through three games.
Lekkerimäki shows layers beyond his shot
Lekkerimäki tallied his overtime assist in an unexpected way: by hounding his man on the forecheck.
Lekkerimäki just wouldn’t let Czech captain Stanislav Svozil pull away from him, keeping up the pressure until Svozil tried an ill-advised cross-ice pass that was knocked down by Ludvig Jansson. Lekkerimäki picked up the loose puck and sent Jansson in down the right side, who drove to the net for a fantastic finish.
It’s to Lekkerimäki’s credit that he was even on the ice in overtime. The young winger had limited ice time in Sweden’s last game against Germany but was given more rope by the Swedish coaching staff against Czechia. He was even promoted up to the second line with his Djurgårdens linemates Noah Ostlund and Liam Ohgren when Boston Bruins prospect Fabian Lysell left the game in the first period.
As a result, Lekkerimäki finished the game with 16:22 in ice time, fifth among Swedish forwards.
While Lekkerimäki is known for his shot, it was his passing that was most noticeable in this game. His best shift prior to overtime came in the second period. He made a nifty pass to a defenceman jumping up in the play for what should have been a great chance, but his teammate lost the puck as he went to the net.
Lekkerimäki followed that up by going to the net, where he saw Calle Odelius hit the post, then smartly retrieved the rebound and sent a long shot from distance designed to create a rebound for another teammate. Shortly after, he set up another shot with a quick pass.
It was a nice display of Lekkerimäki’s vision but there were a couple of glimpses of weaknesses to his game in there as well. When Lekkerimäki was in the slot, he made no attempt at trying to tip the puck, something he hasn’t done in that spot all tournament.
Also, when Lekkerimäki went to the front of the net for Odelius’s chance, he didn’t have his stick on the ice as a target for Odelius if he wanted to look off the shot and pass to Lekkerimäki for a deflection.
If Lekkerimäki wants to be a goalscorer in the NHL, he’s going to have to add more varied ways of scoring to his game beyond his excellent shot.
Pettersson leaves game after hard hit
There might be some cause for concern for Canucks prospect defenceman Elias Pettersson, who left the game against Czechia after taking a heavy hit into the boards in the final minutes of regulation.
Pettersson went back to get the puck and attempted to get up against the boards to lessen the impact, but the 6’4” Marcel Marcel finished his check hard and Pettersson’s head seemed to bounce off the glass.
While Pettersson was able to get off the ice under his own strength, he was clearly in distress and went straight to Sweden’s locker room, likely to undergo concussion protocol. Swedish coach Magnus Hävelid had no update on Pettersson after the game.
Prior to that hit, Pettersson was having a mixed game. He seemed to struggle with Czechia’s heavier forecheck and was forced into some questionable defensive reads when Czechia cycled the puck.
For instance, there was this play early in the first period where Pettersson left his man, Adam Mechura, open in front to chase the puck carrier going behind the net, when he already had a forward moving to pressure the puck. In that situation, the priority has to be protecting the front of the net and preventing a wide-open scoring chance.
While Pettersson has largely been quite good at defending the rush thanks to his excellent mobility and long reach, he made a poor read on one third-period rush when he tried to cut the puck off in front of the blue line and got beat, allowing a dangerous chance for Petr Hauser.
The puck got behind Swedish goaltender Carl Lindbom but Ostlund was able to clear the puck off the line to save a goal. Ohgren then tried to send Lekkerimäki the other way but his pass was way too far ahead of the Canucks prospect. Lekkerimäki felt he had won the race for the puck but the officials ruled it was an icing.
That icing call proved critical after Pettersson iced the puck again on the subsequent faceoff. After two icings, the Swedes seemed tired, leading to a defensive breakdown and the tying goal that sent the game to overtime.
It started with Ohgren gambling on being able to intercept a pass at the point — when he missed the puck, his man, Jiri Tichacek, stepped around him to create an odd-man situation down low. Pettersson scrambled to try to cover the extra man, but that left him stuck in no man’s land, checking nobody as Tichacek took a return feed and beat Lindbom.
While this game showed some of the raw elements of Pettersson’s game that still need development, there were also a lot of positives. He was aggressive in the offensive zone, jumping into space for several shot attempts, three of them on goal.
His smooth skating was also a boon in transition, as Pettersson was frequently able to skate the puck out of danger and slice through the neutral zone, such as this excellent first-period rush, where he slalomed through several Czech players to gain the offensive zone.
Pettersson finished the game with 17:52 in ice time but the rest of the tournament is up in the air for the defenceman after Marcel’s hit.