In this week’s edition of the Vancouver Canucks prospect report, Jonathan Lekkerimaki and Elias Pettersson are off to a quick start overseas. Meanwhile, at Canucks training camp, Arshdeep Bains is getting a plum opportunity with a couple of NHL veterans and Akito Hirose and Cole McWard are looking to grab spots on the blue line after an impressive Young Stars Classic.
Finally, a quick journey around the leagues in our news and notes where amongst other things, 2023 draft pick Sawyer Mynio signed his entry-level contract (ELC) and Tom Willander donned Terrier colours for the first time. Let’s dive in!
Lekkerimaki Joins Elite Company
Lekkerimaki has continued right where he left off last season when he dominated the HockeyAllsvenskan playoffs. He already has three goals in four games with his new Swedish Hockey League (SHL) team Orebro HK and joined some elite company on Sept. 21 when he scored his third goal of the season. With the tally, he joined Markus Naslund, Thomas Gradin, and Peter Forsberg as the only junior-aged players to score in their first three games of an SHL season (from ‘Canucks prospects: Lekkerimaki joins elite company with third goal in three games’, The Province, 9/21/23).
The former 15th overall pick has looked every bit of the blue-chip prospect that scouts and pundits were gushing over before the 2022 Draft. Lekkerimaki showcased his elite wrist shot and one-timer on two of his three goals and appears to be more confident in his overall game. He was denied the four goals in four games milestone on Saturday (Sept. 23), but has already matched his goal total from last season in the HockeyAllsvenskan which was filled with injuries and setbacks. Here’s hoping he can continue to stay healthy throughout 2023-24 and put up a career season in the SHL.
“D-Petey” Off to a Quick Start in J20 Nationell
Elias Pettersson (aka D-Petey) has also gotten off to a quick start this season. While he is part of the same organization as Lekkerimaki, he has spent most of his time with Orebro’s J20 team in the Nationell. Clearly, he’s a bit too skilled for that league since he already has seven assists in four games with three of those being multi-point nights. His last two games on Sept. 21 and 23 have come in the SHL, but he has seen only 2:51 of ice time (according to Elite Prospects).
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The more Pettersson plays, the more it is looking like the Canucks grabbed a steal in the third round. He is exactly the type of defensive defenceman that will thrive in today’s NHL. His size, mobility, two-way game, and emerging playmaking skills have been on full display this season already and it will be fun to see him transition over to North America in the near future. He signed his ELC last April, and if he can continue to develop positively in the SHL, fans might see him in the American Hockey League (AHL) as soon as 2024-25.
Bains Gets Opportunity With Suter & Garland
Canucks training camp got underway on Thursday and a few line combinations were unveiled that saw Nils Hoglander join Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko on the top line, Vasily Podkolzin team up with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, and Bains line up alongside Pius Suter and Conor Garland. The feisty forward was obviously rewarded for his efforts at the Young Stars Classic and will now get a chance to impress the coaching staff in the preseason. It’s unlikely he will make the team with Ilya Mikheyev’s impending return to the lineup, but the fact that he’s being given an opportunity in the top-nine with legitimate NHLers speaks volumes.
Bains had a solid rookie campaign in the AHL last season with 13 goals and 38 points in 66 games and another two goals in the playoffs (both shorthanded and on the same penalty kill). His speed and tenacity on the forecheck made him a fan favourite in Abbotsford and could do the same for him in Vancouver. Head coach Rick Tocchet loves a strong work ethic and Bains has it in spades. Look for him to do some damage – physically or otherwise – on that line in the preseason.
Hirose & McWard Fighting For Spots on the Blue Line
Speaking of strong Young Stars tournaments, a pair of blueliners in Hirose and McWard were front and center as the former led the way in points with five and the latter in goals with two. They were head and shoulders above the competition and are now in main camp trying to make the opening night roster.
Hirose and McWard continued to impress in the only scrimmage of training camp as Hirose looked calm and cool moving the puck out of his own zone and McWard scored another goal – his third of the festivities if anyone is keeping count. They will both fight for spots on the blue line alongside Tyler Myers or as the seventh/eighth defenceman. As for training camp line rushes, Guillaume Brisebois has been seen in that position, but I am sure they will get their opportunity soon enough; especially if they keep performing at the level we’ve seen so far.
Other News & Notes Around the Canucks Prospect World
- Mynio signed his entry-level contract on Sunday (Sept. 24). He had an impressive Young Stars tournament and will be returning to the Seattle Thunderbirds when training camp is over.
- Recent 2023 draft pick Vilmer Alriksson also had a strong Young Stars with a goal on a deft tip of a McWard wrist shot and will likely get some reps in the preseason before returning to the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
- Willander donned Terrier colours this past week in practice, but he won’t be making his debut with Boston University until the second game of the season at the earliest due to dressing in two SHL games in 2022-23. Even though he never logged a single second of ice time, he still dressed, which is enough in the NCAA’s mind to miss the first game.
- Lucas Forsell pounded home his first goal of the season this past week against the Malmo Redhawks. He had 11 goals in the SHL as a 19-year-old last season and will hopefully be getting more ice time as a top-six forward this time around. His stock has risen dramatically since being a seventh-round pick in 2021 and is now a top-10 prospect (at least in my eyes – I had him 10th in my latest rankings).
- Joni Jurmo recorded his first point (an assist) in his fourth game of the season against Lukko on Wednesday (Sept. 20). He is playing for Ilves after spending 2022-23 with Jukurit where he hit a career-high five goals and 13 points in 52 games. The 6-foot-5 smooth-skating defenceman is now 21 years old and is still looking for an ELC from the Canucks in his draft-plus-four year.
That does it for the first Canucks prospect report of the 2023-24 season. The next one will feature way more content as the OHL, Western Hockey League (WHL), and NCAA seasons will be well underway. Until then, enjoy the preseason!
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