3 Canucks Prospects to Watch at 2023 World Juniors
The 2023 World Juniors, to be hosted this year in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New Brunswick, begin December 26. Featuring some of the best young talent hockey has to offer, the Vancouver Canucks have not had marquee prospects enter the tournament since Vasily Podkolzin captained Team Russia in 2021.
See also: THW guidelines for the 2023 Junior World Championships
Once again, Canucks fans will be keeping a close eye on Team Sweden as Jonathan Lekkerimaki and Elias Pettersson were included in their nation’s final line-up last week. Team Finland will also have Aku Koskenvuo, a recently selected 2021 draft pick, playing for Harvard in the NCAA this season. Let’s take a closer look at all three prospects as they prepare to compete for gold.
Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Right Wing, Team Sweden
After a 2021-22 season in which Lekkerimaki dominated the J20 circuit with 20 goals and 35 points in 26 games and held his own against men in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), everyone was excited to see what he could do in his draft. plus-one (D+1) year in 2022-23. Unfortunately, he hasn’t got off to a good start as he has scored just one goal and five points in 20 games and hasn’t scored since October 7th.
Lekkerimaki is also recovering from a concussion he sustained in a game against Vasteras IK on 26 November that almost ended his chances of qualifying for the tournament. Luckily for him, the signs are looking good Rick Dhaliwal reported recently that he ran with the team and could be ready for either the pre-tournament games or the first game on December 26th.
Hopefully if Lekkerimaki does end up playing it will be a stepping stone for him to salvage an otherwise disappointing season. Known for his offensive creativity and NHL shot, he should find success in a smaller league like HockeyAllsvenskan. But he hasn’t, at least not yet. Perhaps it’s the pick-me-up he needs to play for his country alongside other first-round talent. Considering he’s had success in these types of tournaments in the past – 15 points at U18s in 2022 comes to mind – I wouldn’t be surprised if he did just that.
The defenseman, with the exact first and last name of the Canucks’ superstar center, has had quite a season of his own overseas with four goals and 13 points in 12 games with Orebro HK J20 in the J20 National. He recently scored his first SHL goal for Orebro HK on December 8th and has not seen the J20 National since November 25th. In fact, he has now played 24 games in Sweden’s top division and is getting 14 to 15 minutes of regular ice time. Not bad for an 18 year old.
Also See: Vancouver Canucks 2022 Draft: Meet the New Prospects
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It remains to be seen what role Pettersson will play in Team Sweden as they bring eight defenders to the tournament. Led by 2022 runner-up Calle Odelius and 2023 top prospect Axel Sandin-Pellikka, he may find himself in the press box more often. However, new head coach Magnus Havelid could give him more chances considering how well he has played for his nation in recent months. In seven games in different tournaments he has three goals and four points while also carrying an impressive plus/minus 15 plus/minus column (from Canucks Prospects Tracker: The World Juniors Come Calling for a Couple of Swedes, The province12/11/22).
When Pettersson was drafted, scouts raved about his height (6ft 3, 196 pounds), mobility and solid two-way game. In a short tournament where Sweden are without the massive presence of Simon Edvinsson, let alone just one other defender in the squad who is over 6ft-1 (Adam Engstrom), we might be surprised at just how tall one is role he gets.
Aku Koskenvuo, goalkeeper, Team Finland
Rounding out the trifecta of positions at this year’s WJC is goaltender Aku Koskenvuo, drafted by the Canucks in 2021 137th overall. The 6-foot-4 favorite of goalkeeping coach Ian Clark has had two seasons – one in North America and one abroad. While playing for Harvard in the NCAA, he struggled to get going, appearing in just two games and posting a 1-1 record and a 3.56 goal-against-against average (GAA) and a save percentage of 0.875 (SV%). However, wearing the lion for Team Finland was a different story. In three games across various international tournaments this season, he has yet to lose a game and has an impressive 1.59 GAA and 0.925 SV%.
These numbers are probably the reason why Koskenvuo was included in the Finnish squad. While he probably won’t be the starter — that goes to Niklas Kokko, a second-rounder for the Vegas Golden Knights — he could be backing up against fewer opponents in some games. But stranger things have happened at the WJC in the past. Remember when Devon Levi was originally the third goaltender for Team Canada and won gold as a starter in 2021? He wasn’t a first-round pick either, but a seventh-round pick by the Florida Panthers.
Like I said, stranger things have happened. So if Koskenvuo can do his best and perform when he hits the net, maybe he can surprise everyone and become the next Levi, or even just another goalkeeper frustrating the competition like many others in Finnish WJC history have done – Tuukka Rask, anyone?
The schedule of Sweden and Finland at WJC 2023
Sweden and Finland are the countries to watch at World Juniors 2023 if you’re a Canucks fan – that is, with Lekkerimaki, Pettersson and Koskenvuo all competing. Regardless, both countries begin their hunt for gold on December 26th. Here is the full match schedule for the group stage:
- Dec 26 – vs. Austria, 10:30am PT
- December 27 – v Germany, 10:30am PT
- Dec. 29 – vs Czech Republic, 10:30am PT
- Dec. 31 – vs. Canada, 3:30 p.m. PT
- December 26 – vs. Switzerland, 08:00 PT
- Dec 27 – v Slovakia, 8:00am PT
- Dec 29 – v Latvia, 8:00am PT
- Dec. 31 – vs. United States, 1:00 p.m. PT
Matthew Zator is Associate Editor-in-Chief at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL draft and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content info, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts listed under his photo at the bottom of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.
Matthew is also the co-host of The Hockey Writers Prospect Corner on YouTube.