With the 2022 NHL Draft rapidly approaching, it is time to take a deeper look at the top contenders. The Detroit Red Wings have the 8th-overall pick and will be looking to acquire even more young talent, especially defensemen and goal scorers, and Jonathan Lekkerimäki could very well fill that role and meet the expectations that go along with it.
Lekkerimäki is a 17-year-old, 5-foot-11 right-winger from Sweden who has been playing in the Swedish leagues for the past four seasons. Although his last name sounds remarkably Finnish, this young Swede has proudly represented his home country on the international stage at the U16, U18, and U20 levels. Most recently, he has played for Djurgårdens IF in the J20 Nationell league and Djurgårdens IF of the SHL.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
Through the 2021-22 season, Lekkerimäki played 66 games between five teams; Djurgårdens IF J20, Djurgårdens IF, and three Swedish international teams. During his stint with Djurgårdens IF J20, he scored 20 goals and 15 assists in just 26 games. He made his SHL debut this year and played another 26 games, scoring seven goals and two assists. This is a notable drop in production, but it has to be remembered that Lekkerimäki is a 17-year-old playing in one of the most competitive European leagues.
While playing for the Swedish U18 international team in 2021-22, he scored five goals and 10 assists in six games. Averaging roughly three points per game in a tournament is no easy feat, but it seemed to come naturally for Lekkerimäki.
Lekkerimäki has a well-refined hockey sense, specifically specializing in finding open space on the ice to make himself available for plays. Once he finds his place on the ice, he is ready to slam a puck into the net or make a tactical pass to a teammate, both of which are reflected in his 2021-22 juniors stat sheets in particular. His patience to find the prime spot for either making a play or taking a shot speaks volumes about him as a player. He may be young, but his remarkable skill and hockey sense allows him to hang in there with players up to twice his age in the SHL.
He also has a sheer ability to score goals. Whether it is his deadly one-timer, strong wrist shot, or simply just racking up power-play goals, Lekkerimäki is a killer goal scorer. He can read the goaltender to understand if he is good to take a shot on net or if he is better off passing the puck to a teammate. He likes to use a slingshot motion in his shot, which is not only incredibly fast but also accurate.
“He makes use of a rather wicked slingshot motion to create obviously deceptive torque that has left several SHL goalies dumbfounded throughout the season, much less an array of junior-level netminders. He doesn’t need a lot of time to release and loves taking one-timers when the opportunity presents itself, which it seems to do a lot because he’s great at getting into a position to be fed for a one-timer. He can slap the puck with the best of them among his peers, but a wrist/snapshot selection is his key go-to weapon and for good reason.”
In terms of areas that could use improvement, Lekkerimäki could strengthen the physical aspect of his game. His skating is also lacking that “wow” factor compared to the rest of his game, such as his shooting and playmaking. His average skating ability is likely in part due to his age and development status, but this is not something that holds him back or makes him a less desirable player. Although his shot itself is remarkable, he tends to need time and space to fully utilize it. He can be called a power-play specialist as only 56% of his club goals were scored at even strength (from ‘Scout’s Notebook: The top finishers from the 2022 NHL Draft class,’ Elite Prospects Rinkside, 5/24/22).
That being said, the positives outweigh the negatives. Lekkerimäki is incredibly young and has time to improve, and being able to play at the SHL level is something that will push him to fine-tune his skills in areas such as physicality and skating to keep up with the veteran talent that surrounds him.
Fitting in With the Red Wings
Lekkerimäki would be in good company in the Red Wings’ prospect pool. Although he would be on the younger side, his skills match up with his potential peers just fine. Having him in the mix alongside players like Elmer Soderblom, William Wallander, Cross Hanas, Carter Mazur, and so many others will help bolster the Red Wings’ success down the road as the rebuild ramps up. Lekkerimäki is a unique asset to add to the mix; he is incredibly young and such a strong goal scorer that he would be a good fit for the roster as he brings his own game and would deepen the talent in the prospect pool.
Detroit has three right-wingers on their roster, including Lucas Raymond, Giavani Smith, and Filip Zadina. Carter Rowney, Riley Barber, and Jonatan Berggren have all signed contracts but are not yet a part of the “permanent” roster. Prospect-wise, there are seven right-wingers in the mix, including Pontus Andreasson, Albin Grewe, Ryan O’Reilley, Sam Stange, Kienan Draper, Otto Kivenmäki, and John Adams. Although there is a considerable amount of depth in this position, adding Lekkerimäki would still be beneficial. He is a unique player and has more potential for making an impact on the roster down the road than other names on this list.
Related: Red Wings Draft Coverage
So, why should the Red Wings choose him? Lekkerimäki is one of the best players that should be available at 8th overall. Given his ability to score goals and make tactical plays, he is the kind of player that would fill a very important space in this organization. He is projected to go anywhere in the top-10 or top-20, so he is readily attainable for the Red Wings as opposed to other high-caliber players such as Matthew Savoie, who is likely to go in the top-5. Plus, the Red Wings can’t seem to be able to turn down highly skilled Swedish prospects, so why not snag one more?
“If you aren’t convinced already, Lekkerimäki will do quite literally anything to find the back of the net. Whether it’s a slap shot from the point that goes in before the goaltender has a chance to blink or a dirty net-front goal that finally trickles in after three or four whacks at it, Lekkerimäki wants every part of it, every time.” –Alex Hobson, The Hockey Writers
“Lekkerimäki has impressed already, but it is clear that there is much more potential for him to develop. He has clear powerplay upside between his creativity, pace, and shot. Additionally, he will be a great asset in transitional play and can help out on the defensive end. He may be a prospect that requires some patience, but Lekkerimäki should be well worth the wait.” -Alexa Potack, Dobber Prospects
Delaney Rimer writes about the Detroit Red Wings for THW who brings a new perspective to the hockey scene as a young female in the industry. Formerly, she wrote for Octopus Thrower- a Detroit Red Wings fan blog.