Canucks have three prospects to watch at 2023 World Juniors
Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Elias Pettersson (the defender) will line up for Sweden, while Aku Koskenvuo is keen to be Finland’s starting goalkeeper.
Despite missing the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons, the Vancouver Canucks don’t have a particularly strong candidate pool.
Earlier this season, Elite Prospects ranked the Canucks’ candidate pool 28th overall among the 32 NHL teams. The four teams below are recent Stanley Cup winners the Colorado Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals, and the Boston Bruins, who currently rank first in the NHL. You have good reason to have exhausted prospect pools; the Canucks don’t.
However, the Canucks have more prospects for the 2023 World Junior Championship than some teams. Ten NHL teams will have fewer prospects at the tournament than the Canucks’ three prospects, who will represent their countries in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New Brunswick beginning December 26.
That includes the Canucks’ lead pick, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, whom general manager Patrik Allvin made his first-ever draft pick in the first round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
Let’s take a look at the three potential Canucks at World Juniors 2023 and when you can see them over the next two weeks.
Sweden: Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Elias Pettersson
It’s no surprise that the Canucks have prospects to represent Team Sweden. The Canucks have a long history with Swedish stars and have often returned to Sweden when drafting. This summer’s development camp was packed with Swedish prospects, including two friends who will play for Sweden at World Juniors: Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Elias Pettersson.
No, the other Elias Pettersson.
“We are many Swedes here, so I know them, especially my friend Jonathan Lekkerimäki,” Pettersson said during this development camp. “We played together in the national team and met at home in Sweden.”
Now they will look to bring gold medals home to Sweden after the team narrowly missed out on the gold medal match at the 2022 tournament in August, winning bronze instead.
Lekkerimäki was part of this team from 2022 but had an overwhelming performance with only 3 points in 7 games. Expectations for this tournament were high after he lit up the U18 World Cup with 15 points in 6 games, but Lekkerimäki was the youngest player in Sweden’s squad so it’s understandable that he’s showing a calmer performance.
Lekkerimäki is still only 18 but looks set to play a bigger role for Sweden, especially if his former U18 coach Magnus Hävelid takes over as head coach. He will likely play on the second row with trusted Djurgårdens linemates Noah Östlund and Liam Öhgren, although he has played on the third row in the pre-tournament games.
Of the three, Lekkerimäki has produced the least this season, with just 1 goal and 5 points in 20 Allsvenskan games compared to 11 and 14 points for Östlund and Öhgren. Lekkerimäki found it more difficult to find the time and space to unleash his fantastic shot against men in the Allsvenskan and was out with a concussion for three weeks before the tournament.
The World Junior Tournament almost feels like a reset button for Lekkerimäki’s season. He has an opportunity to assert himself against his peers and build some confidence in the second half of the Allsvenskan season and re-establish himself as one of Sweden’s best young players.
Pettersson now plays in the SHL. While the 18-year-old has just 2 points in 24 games, playing in so many SHL games at his age as a defender is still impressive.
Pettersson has averaged less than 10 minutes per game for Örebro HK, but he began playing a regular shift in late November, averaging around 15 minutes per game in the weeks leading up to his departure for the World Junior Championship.
This tournament might just be about gaining experience for Pettersson before he takes on a bigger role next year, but Sweden could end up counting on the size of 6ft 3in Pettersson and in the back end with top defenders Elias Salomonsson and Mattias Hävelid are running out of injuries and Simon Edvinsson, who opts out as he tries to work his way into the Detroit Red Wings roster.
Sweden 2023 World Junior schedule
- December 26, 10:30 am – Austria – Sweden (TSN 1/4/5)
- December 27, 10:30 am – Sweden v Germany (TSN 1/4/5)
- December 29, 10:30 am – Czech Republic vs Sweden (TSN 1/3/5)
- December 31, 3:00 p.m. – Sweden v Canada (TSN 1/4/5)
Finland: Aku Koskenvuo
Goalkeeper Aku Koskenvuo has worked his way up to Team Finland for the World Junior Championships with some strong performances in international tournaments, despite struggling to get started at Harvard University. He has only played two games for Harvard — a win and a loss — and has an .875 save rate.
It remains to be seen how much Koskenvuo will play for Finland in this year’s tournament, his last chance to play at World Juniors. He might not play at all behind Seattle Kraken second-round pick Niklas Kokko and undrafted but highly regarded Jani Lampinen, or he might end up being their best keeper.
It’s still up in the air as there isn’t a clear number one for Finland. If Finland just tries to give the younger Kokko some experience to prepare him to start next year, then maybe Koskenvuo will get more playing time.
Koskenvuo has all the attributes you would want to see in a goalie with a great 6ft 4in height, excellent agility and great competitiveness. Like most young goalkeepers, he needs a lot of refinement in his technique to close gaps and become more efficient.
Finland 2023 World Junior schedule
- December 26, 8:00 a.m. – Switzerland v Finland (TSN 1/4/5)
- December 27, 8:00 a.m. – Slovakia – Finland (TSN 1/4/5)
- December 29, 8:00 a.m. – Finland – Latvia (TSN 1/3/5)
- December 31, 1:00 p.m. – Finland – United States (TSN 1/4)