Sweden didn't come away with a gold medal, but Vancouver Canucks prospect Jonathan Lekkerimäki had a wildly impressive 2024 World Junior Championship performance. Even if you're GM Patrik Allvin and the Canucks brass, you probably got more than you bargained for in this tournament.
The 2022 15th overall pick scored points in every - yes, every - game for Sweden in the tournament. This includes three multi-point games, and a four-game goal streak to wrap up the tournament. Lekkerimäki didn't have an overly impressive season in HockeyAllsvenskan last year, so his blazing form at World Juniors goes to show that his strong showing in the SHL this season isn't a fluke. In 24 games with Orebro HK, the 19-year-old has 10 goals, six assists, and 16 points to go with a plus-3 plus-minus rating.
In only a year, the conversation switched to when Lekkerimäki will join the Canucks - not if. And with the Andrei Kuzmenko situation headed nowhere fast, the Canucks could really use another sharpshooting right-shot winger. Plus, Kuzmenko only has one year left on his current contract. This means that if all works out well, the timing could end up being perfect for the Canucks.
Of course, Allvin and Co. will still need to carefully balance the development of the Canucks' prospects and fielding a competitive, playoff-caliber roster. That's something that becomes increasingly difficult with the dog days of the Oliver Ekman-Larsson buyout on the horizon. Conversely, that's where having a confident Lekkerimäki on an entry-level contract helps.
You can look no further than Alexander Holtz of the New Jersey Devils as an example. The Devils let a ton of veterans walk in the offseason, which more or less meant that Holtz had to make the team after a few years of productive AHL campaigns. Now, despite playing fewer than 12 minutes a night in a fourth-line role, Holtz is on pace for a 20-goal, 40-point campaign. In 37 games this season, the 21-year-old has nine goals, 10 assists, and 19 points. And he barely plays!
The Canucks would probably be elated to get that kind of game out of a young Lekkerimäki in a year or two, and it would provide a huge boost in offensive production to their bottom-six. This is not to say that Lekkerimäki won't be ready for a top-six role, but more to do with the fact that the Canucks will have options. Rick Tocchet and his staff won't need to rush this future Canucks star. Lekkerimäki has already proven capable of coming a long way.