Lekkerimaki shoots to thrill
by Lucas Aykroyd|26 APR 2022
Sweden's Jonathan Lekkerimaki (#23) scored twice in a 6-2 romp over Switzerland at the 2022 U18 Worlds.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
When you’re 17 years old, you’re typically still figuring out your place and purpose in life. At least on the hockey rink, Jonathan Lekkerimaki knows exactly who he wants to be.

The Djurgarden winger, playing on Sweden’s top U18 Worlds line with captain Liam Ohgren and assistant captain Noah Ostlund, described the straightforward instructions from head coach Magnus Havelid he got about his role on this team: “To be an offensive player and take advantage of my shot.”

Like his Smakronorna teammates, Lekkerimaki struggled to find his groove in the tournament opener in Kaufbeuren, going pointless in a 3-2 upset loss to Latvia.

However, his sniper instincts came out in the third period of the 6-2 comeback win over Switzerland. The 181-cm, 78-kg forward got the 2-2 equalizer at 3:04, rushing down right wing and cutting in to loft home a sweet backhander. And he put the icing on the cake with Sweden’s sixth goal at 11:13, beating Swiss netminder Alessio Beglieri from the slot on the power play.

“It was a sad start to the tournament, but now we’re turning this around,” Lekkerimaki said. “We are a strong team.”

Lekkerimaki’s presence certainly strengthens Sweden’s hopes of winning its first and only gold medal since the 2019 triumph in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. The Huddinge-born prospect’s shoot-first mentality and skill set could potentially make him a top-10 NHL draft pick in 2022.

Whether it’s a deadly accurate wrister, a powerful one-timer, or an ugly rebound, Lekkerimaki is hungry to score any way he can. He’s a slippery presence on the ice who knows when to hesitate deceptively and when to go for it. He boosted his reputation with a team-leading five goals at the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, including a hat trick in a 7-5 semi-final loss to Russia. 

“I often practice shooting, both with and without a goalie,” said Lekkerimaki. “I have always found it fun to practice shooting.”

In his rookie SHL season with Djurgarden, he scored seven goals in 26 games. That made Lekkerimaki the second most-productive 17-year-old goal-scorer in SHL history after the legendary Peter Forsberg, who had seven goals in 23 games for MODO in 1990-91.

With Djurgarden’s U20 squad, the right-shooting ace racked up 20 goals in 26 games. Interestingly, that’s the same number of goals as 16-year-old Slovak sensation Dalibor Dvorsky got with AIK’s U20 squad in 33 games.

Even though Djurgarden endured a nightmarish season, with the famous Stockholm club getting relegated to Hockey Allsvenskan for the first time since 2011-12, Lekkerimaki relished his first taste of elite pro hockey. Who was the most influential and helpful person for him in 2021-22?

“I can’t only pick one person,” Lekkerimaki said. “I received a lot of support and encouragement from my teammates and my coaches in Djurgarden, and also my agency Wesport. I have gained a lot of trust from my coaches, and it has made me grow both as a person and as a hockey player.”

While Djurgarden’s roster was dotted with ex-NHLers from leading scorer Marcus Sorensen to 2018 Canadian Olympian Marc-Andre Gragnani, it was natural for Lekkerimaki to seek out someone closer to his own age for tips about the NHL. He picked the brain of William Eklund, who had four assists in nine games this season with the San Jose Sharks, who drafted Eklund seventh overall in 2021, before returning to Sweden.

“He told me that it was a completely different thing over there in America,” Lekkerimaki recalled. “It was more professional. He also told me that if I were to get the chance, I should just go out there and enjoy myself.”

Lekkerimaki enjoys watching Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks as his favourite NHLer. And when asked to name his top memory from the 2019 U18 Worlds, he doesn’t hesitate: “When Lucas Raymond scored a hat trick in the final.”

However, right now, he needs to focus on Sweden’s Tuesday showdown against archrival Finland. The quarter-finals are coming up quickly on Thursday. Lekkerimaki knows exactly what it will take to succeed on Bavarian ice.

“We have to play as a team, play for the team, and have fun.”