It’s hard to imagine anyone came into this season thinking Jonathan Lekkerimäki, a Swede with a Finnish name, would be sifting his way into the front end of the first round of the draft, but that has taken place. Whether it would or would not have been conceivable last September, it can surely be attributed in part to the unexpectedly weak season his club Djurgarden has experienced in the SHL, despite featuring a plethora of players with strong NHL, AHL, and international backgrounds, including San Jose Sharks first rounder William Eklund. The team has even recently added Swedish icon Dick Axelsson, a topflight SHL scorer who retired last summer, as well as Canadians Eric Gelinas and Emil Poirier in recent weeks. In a draft year light on potential high impact players, Lekkerimäki has become a new treat with a bag full of tricks.
What Lekkerimäki really has going for him is a natural instinct for the creation and completion of scoring chances. He intrigues thanks to a wicked slingshot of a wrister, a zapping one-timer, and very slick mitts in tight quarters. Still nowhere near his man strength, he hasn’t needed to be to survive in the SHL this season. There are skating issues and he can naturally disappear, especially when stronger opponents are on the ice, but that’s hardly uncommon for a kid his age on a bottom-feeder.
When looking at his overall package, one of the things that makes it all that much more impressive is the fact that he won’t even turn 18 until July 24th. That’s a lot later than plenty of his peers in this draft, and that means a heck of a lot in the scouting community. In essence, this means he’s had, up to, perhaps an entire season less of development time than a number of his co-draftees scheduled for this summer’s draft.
|Date of Birth: 2004-07-24
|Position: RW, Shoots: R
|H/W: 5'11", 172 lbs.
|Stats to Date: (GP-G-A-PTS-PIMS)
|U20 Nationell (26-20-15-35-18)
We won’t hesitate to say that this is the part of his game that you’ll see receiving the greatest amount of critique. Yes, it’s warranted, especially when compared to the rest of his game. But no, it’s not something that’s going to hold him back. He’s still growing, and close analysis says it’s more an issue of teenage coordination and strength than any technical deficiencies. In fact, when it comes to agility and tight corner turns, he’s an above average skater. Not every player can, for example, go to knee for a shot while maintaining full body composure as is seen here:
He also seems to possess a deceptive speed that becomes more apparent when he actually has the puck, a time in which many other players have to slow things down. Not Lekkerimäki. That’s when he’s dancing or off to the races. The separation speed shown in this opportunity clearly buys him all the time in the world for a clean breakaway goal:
In the following instance, he displays straight away speed from within his own zone that helps to create a passing situation that otherwise would not be possible, ensuing in a scoring opportunity that leaves the defense with no viable option to stop him:
Some players like to skate past or deke out opposing defensemen, but Lekkerimäki has been known to combine both of these things with hopping past them on his way to the net as well:
Then there are situations in which a player is primed to be plastered on the boards, but uses skating acumen to not only avoid suffering such a hit, but to do so while maintaining puck control and eventually creating a scoring opportunity:
He will continue to have detractors when viewing his skating on whole or especially in comparison to some other players, but there have been plenty of effective NHLers over the years who didn’t possess his straightforward speed or agility. He’s very solid and composed on his skates despite his youth and slight build. It’s not going to be an issue over the long run.
This has been Lekkerimäki’s strength to date. He makes use of a rather wicked slingshot motion to create obviously deceptive torque that has left several SHL goalies dumbfounded throughout the season, much less an array of junior level netminders. He doesn’t need a lot of time to release and loves taking one-timers when the opportunity presents itself, which it seems to do a lot because he’s great at getting into a position to be fed for a one-timer. He can slap the puck with the best of them among his peers, but a wrist/snapshot selection is his key go-to weapon and for good reason. It’s where he has more control and it’s not only fast, but deadly accurate.
Lekkerimäki is also quick to coral pucks and whip them back into shooting position, simply creating more shot opportunities than your average player. In addition, he’s not shown himself to be a player who thinks pass first, but rather seems to have no problem letting it rip and is quick to come to the decision that using his shot is the best alternative. He rarely looks wrong for doing so.
The goal Lekkerimäki scores in this video displays three things of considerable note. First and foremost, he puts himself into a spot that has him wide open, anticipating what a passing option he’ll be if his teammate manages to gain control of the puck. Once the puck is sent his way, there’s no wasting time. He rips it as soon as it arrives. It’s a cross-ice pass and he’s not willing to give the goaltender any more time than is necessary. Lastly, he pounces quickly on the (admittedly generous) rebound and places the puck in the net with no wasting of time and despite hardly a scent of open net. Judging by his upper body motion, he quickly selected a spot in which he felt a shot would still have a solid chance of going in, and it does.
In this scene, we can see how Lekkerimäki alters his motion, heads somewhere that somewhat confuses the defending team, making the impression that he poses no real threat, then moves in another sweeping motion towards the slot where he releases his deadly snapshot with uncanny precision. He does so in a manner that clearly had his opponents fooled, with great velocity. Did anyone on the ice see that coming?
As mentioned, he loves to one-time the puck, particularly from that left side faceoff circle:
He’ll happily wrist accurate bullets from that very spot when given the time and space:
Apropos time and space, he can score coming down the right side of the ice too, simply beating goaltenders with a well-placed wrister:
And even when pucks aren’t directly sent into his wheelhouse, he can rifle them with strength and authority and a “take no prisoners” attitude, even if he’s got to alter his body positioning to make it happen:
When all is said and done, Lekkerimäki possesses a weapon that will have plenty of NHL executives envisioning it as part of their respective future gameplan.
Shake and bake hands and dekes are accompanied with regular head and shoulder fakes, enhanced by your odd kick here and there. Top-flight puck control at high speeds while cocking shots is an absolute forte. A prime example thereof can be seen right here:
Throw in some slick passes intersecting with a regular array of quick releases, and you’ve got a kid looking to not only make the NHL, but slot in with the Ovechkins and Laines of the world when it comes to goal-scoring prowess and style. In fact, it sometimes simply flows. The mixture of mechanics, timing, situational recognition, and all out ability is sometimes put on display in a manner leaving you wonder how this is just a 17-year old young man.
Against a very strong Färjestad opponent, Lekkerimäki makes his way around the defender, storms to the goal, places a shot leading to a rich rebound, which he then himself grabs as part of one motion. He proceeds to make use of excellent skating mechanics to maintain his motion around the net and quickly assess where his best passing option is. He feeds that option precisely for a textbook one-timer that becomes a goal. This all takes place in mere seconds and without interruption. This one scene serves as a testament to his skating, passing, and overall situational intelligence.
Then there’s the ability to make something out of nothing. He has shown this aplenty when playing against his peers age-wise, but we’ve come to see flashes of it at the SHL level as well. How many kids his age are going to think of something like this, much less have the gall to even try pulling it off at a level such as the SHL?
The skills are there to be seen as one of the top 15 players available in the 2022 draft for teams looking for offensive contributors with game-breaking potential.
We’ll start here by saying it’s very tough to get a true feel of what Lekkerimäki’s game will be like for long stretches without the puck. He’s incredibly young and playing in one of the best pro leagues on the planet. He’s obviously still getting a feel for where to be when the opponents have puck possession and are dancing around in his team’s zone. In a forechecking capacity, he has thus far shown that not to be a concern. Here’s an instance that is indicative of what he looks to do in the opposition zone when his team isn’t in possession of the puck:
That aside, Lekkerimäki’s attacking instincts are top notch. He’s incredible at analyzing what lanes, space, and time he has with the puck. He’s simply fantastic at turning himself into a passing option, often making the concept of attacking look far too simple by steadily making use of the time and space allotted to then quickly strike unapologetically, as is seen here:
He’s adept at causing opponents to cough up the puck, while taking away time and space on the forecheck. He seems to have an almost otherworldly sense of when to shoot and when to pass, doing both enormously well, but exhibiting more of a shoot-first mentality. And he’s downright creative in generating offensive opportunities, often seeing options not apparent to the naked eye. Sometimes they’re as simple as putting on the accelerators and then bringing the puck to the goal in a way that is focused on hopefully generating a healthy rebound, as seen here:
Some would also attribute reactionary decisions, especially those in tight quarters with relatively little time to contemplate, a key trait in determining a player’s smarts. If you belong to that train of thought, then you’ll likely give Lekkerimäki high notes for a play such as this one, which wound up in the net:
Not every player is going to instinctually cut back to his forehand like that and stick with it until the goal lamp starts flashing. It’s simply looking like Lekkerimäki is going to not only be a player plentiful in tricks over time, but quite intelligent about when to do what, with and without the puck.
It’s there. Lekkerimäki has no problem taking hits in order to attack and has just as little a problem dishing out hits. He can line them up and take them out on par with the best in the field when it comes to forechecking, as alluded to several times above. He’s got an edge too. Sure, he can be roughed up, but he takes numbers and doesn’t shy away from giving it back, be it during the same shift or at a later juncture. You’ll see him get edged out along the boards one second only to deck the next opponent coming his way three seconds later. Exactly that is evident in this video clip:
At the SHL level, he hasn’t looked shy or intimidated. He’s also shown a very good sense of timing with respect to when and in what way he makes contact. He doesn’t have to place all of his might in banging someone in order to end a player’s momentum or stunt a possible breakout, as can be seen here:
Does he have it in him to keep grinding in situations of desperation when his team is down by a goal or two and momentum is hard to come by? That’s something we’ll have to see over time, but he battles, and it’s been evident at both the junior and senior level. He’s looked very smart in the SHL, knowing when to pick his battles. He exudes a higher level of rambunctiousness when playing at the junior level. He’s also a gamer as his international play to date suggests. We got to see several instances of extremely hard work and timely goal-scoring at last summer’s Hlinka Gretzky Tournament.