When the Vancouver Canucks selected Jonathan Lekkerimäki 15th overall at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, hopes were high.
At 17 years old, Lekkerimäki already had an NHL-caliber shot, the kind of wicked release that can beat even unscreened goaltenders from distance. He combined that shot with a bevy of other intriguing tools and was one of the youngest players in the draft, giving him a ton of room to grow and realize his potential.
Since he was drafted, however, it’s been a nightmare year for Lekkerimäki, one that has finally come to a close thanks to a season-ending foot injury.
Lekkerimäki suffered the injury during practice on Monday after losing his balance and falling into the boards. ChekTV’s Rick Dhaliwal spoke to Djurgården IF general manager K-G Stoppel, who informed him that Lekkerimäki does not have a fracture and won’t require surgery but will be out for eight weeks.
The HockeyAllsvenskan regular season wraps up on March 10 and Djurgården is not a strong bet to go deep into the playoffs, which typically run until early May. If Djurgården did make a playoff run and pushed for promotion to the SHL, Lekkerimäki might be ready to return, but Stoppel didn’t leave that possibility open, instead saying that Lekkerimäki’s season was over.
It’s the latest in a series of hard-luck moments for the Canucks’ top prospect.
Illness, injury, and World Junior struggles for Lekkerimäki
A bout with mononucleosis that left him unable to train for two months nearly kept Lekkerimäki out of the 2022 World Juniors in August — they were rescheduled after a COVID-19 outbreak when they originally ran the previous December. Though he came home with a bronze medal, it was a disappointing tournament for Lekkerimäki.
Whether because he was still recovering from the effects of mono or because he was the youngest player on Team Sweden, Lekkerimäki played limited minutes in a depth role and failed to score a single goal, finishing with 3 assists in 7 games.
Sweden’s coach, Tomas Monten, suggested that mono and all the traveling he did around the draft wore Lekkerimäki out but wasn’t worried about his future.
“He is still a very young prospect who will have learned a lot coming back in December,” said Monten to ChekTV’s Rick Dhaliwal. “Could be one of the studs then. I liked working with Jonathan.”
Things didn’t get better for the Canucks’ top prospect. He got off to a slow start to his HockeyAllsvenskan season, tallying just 5 points in his first 20 games before taking a hit to the head near the end of November and sustaining a concussion.
That put his 2023 World Juniors in jeopardy but he managed to return in time for the tournament. Instead of being “one of the studs,” Lekkerimäki saw his ice time diminish, even getting benched for long stretches of time.
Lekkerimäki and Sweden left the 2023 World Juniors without a medal, falling 8-7 to Team USA in a wild bronze medal game. He finished the tournament barely better than his disappointing 2022 tournament with 1 goal and 3 assists in 7 games.
Finding his stride before a foot injury
Upon his return to Djurgården, Lekkerimäki was sent to the junior league, where he quickly found his confidence, scoring 2 goals and 5 points in 2 games and quickly getting called back up to the men’s team in the HockeyAllsvenskan. That confidence continued as he tallied 4 points in 9 games and even spent some time on Djurgården’s first line.
But now a freak foot injury has set Lekkerimäki back once again.
It’s the latest tough break in a series of tough breaks for the talented young prospect. The Canucks just have to hope that it won’t set back Lekkerimäki’s development too much.
The good news is that Lekkerimäki is still just 18 years old and has plenty of runway ahead of him for him to take off in the coming years. He’s likely to spend at least one more season with Djurgården in Sweden, hopefully helping them promote back up to the SHL, before he comes over to North America.
Hopefully, the coming year is a lot luckier than this past one for Lekkerimäki.