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Lekkerimäki tallies first World Junior point in quiet start to tournament

Sweden's youngest player has played more of a depth role at the 2022 World Junior Championship.
Lekkerimaki on the bench for Sweden
Jonathan Lekkerimäki tallied his first World Junior assist on Friday in a game between Sweden and Austria.

When Jonathan Lekkerimäki played for Sweden at the World Under-18 Championship, his skill spoke volumes.

Lekkerimäki was dominant for Sweden, leading the tournament in scoring with 5 goals and 15 points in six games. That includes a four-point effort in the final against the United States to secure the gold medal, setting up his linemate, Liam Öhgren for the game-winning goal.

At the Under-18s, Lekkerimäki was a first-line forward and a go-to scorer. At the 2022 World Junior Championship, however, Lekkerimäki is playing more of a depth role and hasn’t yet seen the same success. 

As the youngest player on Sweden’s roster, Lekkerimäki is getting some valuable experience that should help him take a larger role in the next two World Junior tournaments but he’s not necessarily relied upon to score this time around. It’s understandable, then, that Lekkerimäki has had a quiet start to the tournament, even against lesser opponents like Switzerland and Austria.

As much as Vancouver Canucks fans might like to see the team’s top pick from the 2022 draft putting up explosive numbers, that was always unlikely. Still, the skilled winger managed to pick up his first World Junior point during Friday’s game against Austria.

Sweden 6 - 0 Austria

The competitive imbalance can be tough to watch at the World Juniors sometimes. Austria scored just one goal at the 2021 World Juniors, which they already managed to surpass with two goals against Germany in their opening game of the tournament, but they were no match for Sweden despite a heroic effort by goaltender Sebastian Wraneschitz.

Sweden out-shot Austria 21-to-3 in the first period alone, though they only managed one goal on Wraneschitz. He couldn’t hang on forever, though, and Sweden cruised to a 6-0 win with five goals in the second and third periods, three of them on the power play.

That’s where Lekkerimäki got his first point of the tournament, assisting on Swedish captain Emil Andrae’s second goal of the game to make it 4-0.

Is Lekkerimäki’s one-touch pass back to Andrae a particularly impressive assist? Well, no. But it counts. 

It was one of Lekkerimäki’s few shifts on the power play, not because he was playing poorly but because the first power play unit was so efficient, either scoring quickly or controlling the puck in the offensive zone. The second unit barely saw the ice. 

While it would certainly be nice to see more from Lekkerimäki, he was still quietly effective when he took the ice. He made a lot of smart, unspectacular plays that won’t make any highlight reels but helped Sweden maintain possession, transition up the ice, or get into a better position for a scoring chance.

This short pass for a zone entry is a good example, as Lekkerimäki waits for the pressure from his opponents before slipping a pass under a stick to Ake Stakkestad to send him up the middle for a potential chance.

Lekkerimäki finished the game with two shots on goal, with this first-period wrist shot from a Stakkestad pass representing his best chance to score.

Lekkerimäki was a bit more assertive against Austria than he was in Sweden’s first game of the tournament but there’s still a sense that he’s waiting for his older teammates to make something happen when he’s on the ice instead of making things happen himself. Perhaps that’s something that will come with time as he gets more comfortable in the World Junior environment. 

Lekkerimäki’s next game will be Sweden’s toughest challenge in the group stage, as they face Team USA on Sunday at 7 p.m.