NHL Prospect Report

Sweden Stock Watch: Canucks prospect Jonathan Lekkerimäki thriving with Örebro

The regular seasons in Sweden are in their last few weeks as we head into playoff hockey on all levels. For most prospects, more so than ever, it often means bouncing around different levels to assist their team’s senior as well as junior teams. All leagues are in win-mode. Some might even shift between SHL and Hockeyallsvenskan too. For this month’s edition of the Swedish stock watch, I will highlight two impressive 2022 first-rounders who are key players heading into the SHL playoffs and two draft-eligible point producers that aren’t highly ranked.

Stock Rising 📈

Jonathan Lekkerimäki, F, Örebro HK (Vancouver Canucks) 

The move to Örebro has proven highly successful for Lekkerimäki. They immediately assigned him a role tailored to his strengths, rather than requiring him to earn it by playing in a capacity unsuited to him initially. Currently, he ranks among the top four goal scorers in the league, and historically, every junior player scoring at his pace in the SHL at his age has progressed to the NHL.

Examining his shooting performance this season reveals an interesting aspect: he is neither a high-volume shooter nor frequently positions himself inside the slot. Instead, he predominantly shoots from low-percentage areas, achieving impressive results by scoring on nearly 21% of his shots. This statistic underscores the elite nature of his shot, making him arguably the best shooter in the SHL.

Despite his goal-scoring prowess, Lekkerimäki is not a one-trick pony. Both his defensive plays and contributions in transitional plays have been noteworthy, highlighting his versatility beyond just scoring. His puck skills and playmaking touch further enhance his repertoire. Demonstrating responsible puck-handling across different areas of the ice, he has the potential to improve by seeking more shooting opportunities, consequently raising his xG rate with shots in dangerous areas. Adapting to more tight situations will be imperative for him in North America. Looking ahead, Lekkerimäki appears poised to become a consistent 30+ goal scorer in the NHL.

Noah Östlund C, Växjö Lakers (Buffalo Sabres) 

Östlund wasn't immediately entrusted with a top scoring role in Växjö; instead, he has assumed more of a supporting role, seldom playing alongside the team's top scorers. Nevertheless, he stands out as one of the best scoring chance drivers per minutes played in the entire league. Whenever he's on the ice, Östlund commands possession, excelling in retrieving pucks and contributing to play in all three zones—a consistency evident throughout his young career at various levels.

Operating within the league's premier defensive system (although this may not be the case with Buffalo in the NHL), Östlund's game has benefited significantly. He exhibits a knack for manipulating defensemen with the puck on his stick, swiftly shifting directions while skating. However, he seldom controls the pace solely with his hands. Despite his standout performance in numerous aspects of the game at such an early age in the SHL, I envision him as more of a middle-six player, mirroring the role he currently fulfills in the SHL. Renowned for his reliability, high work rate, and elite sense to maneuver on both sides of the game, Östlund may lack some offensive superstar qualities skill-wise. Nonetheless, with his motor, he could potentially become a 60+ point producer at some point in his NHL career.

Noel Fransén D, Färjestad (2024 Draft eligible) 

Fransen may not be considered a top talent for the upcoming draft, but I find it noteworthy to mention him here as he wasn't even included among the 135 EU skaters listed by central scouting. Throughout the J20 league season, Fransen has been a point-per-game defenseman, and he has even scored a goal in the SHL. Despite the perceived limitations in translating his game, he possesses intriguing assets, activating his offense with scanning habits and adopting aggressive pinches.

Fransen exhibits swiftness in forward motion with an effective crossover technique. Demonstrating a commendable shot and decent passing skills in the offensive zone, his attacking willingness and effectiveness are notable, primarily relying on speed rather than standout skills to outpace junior opponents. While his skating technique may not be exceptional, and his speed might not stand out as much at higher levels, his defensive game shows inconsistency, albeit with favorable neutral zone defending numbers according to our tracking by Lassi Alanen. He is not particularly adept as a puck-mover, functioning more as an offensive zone provider. Consequently, his point production might exaggerate his value as a prospect. Nevertheless, he appears to be a draft pick with long-term potential if his game can be refined and structured to adapt to senior levels.

Stock Steady ↔️

Noel Nordh F, Brynäs IF (Arizona Coyotes) 

Nordh is enjoying a commendable inaugural season at the professional level in Hockeyallsvenskan as a third-round pick in his draft plus one season. Securing a regular spot on the league's top team, he plays bottom-six minutes and contributes with approximately 0.3 points per game. Primarily, he distinguishes himself as a astute player in the offensive zone, boasting commendable puck skills and adept spatial management. Despite a lack of explosive speed in his skating, he compensates by positioning himself effectively through intelligent scanning habits, demonstrating a proactive approach to connecting with plays.

Nordh poses a significant threat in close-range situations and exhibits shrewd plays from the boards. Defensively, he showcases good play-reading abilities and proactive engagement. There is room for improvement in his ability to retrieve the puck and disrupt opposing plays more frequently. Although his skating may not lend itself to becoming a powerful checker, Nordh is viewed as a long-term project requiring several years of professional hockey before being prepared to vie for an NHL spot. Identified as an offensive third-line player, he possesses the versatility to move up, down, and in and out of lineups in the NHL. As of now, his development appears to be progressing at a steady and consistent pace.

Otto Stenberg, F, Frölunda/BIK Karlskoga (St. Louis Blues) 

Stenberg has yet to secure a regular spot in the SHL, but he has been thoroughly enjoyable to watch in the games he has been loaned down to Karlskoga in Hockeyallsvenskan. Given the opportunity to play top-line minutes, he has consistently tallied points in every game so far, albeit with a few on the power play and a remarkably high shooting percentage. Despite these factors, I appreciate his competitive spirit in these games. He exhibits constant offensive movement, actively seeking open spaces on the ice. Displaying astute small movements, he positions himself adeptly to execute one-timers or create opportunities for well-placed passes. His instinct to engage with the puck in every situation is evident. This bodes well for the Blues, indicating that his strengths can easily transition from junior to Hockeyallsvenskan, and he appears to be a strategically adept offensive forward capable of making swift plays.

Stock Falling 📉

Alexander Zetterberg, C/F, Örebro HK (2024 Draft eligible) 

Zetterberg is reportedly committed to Boston University for the upcoming year, having not received an opportunity to play in the SHL earlier in the season. However, he will need to complete an additional year of Swedish school studies in the coming months to be eligible for college. I believe this decision represents a prudent path for Zetterberg, whose "stock" was initially that of a potential first-rounder before this season, and now it likely projects more as a mid-rounder.

Despite the lack of opportunities in the SHL, there hasn't been much amiss with Zetterberg's performances. He has consistently scored at a high rate throughout the season and has garnered particular praise on the international stage. Transitioning to the wing after growing up as a center, Zetterberg demonstrates intelligence in both offensive and defensive aspects of the game. Possessing a decent shot, playmaking abilities, and a keen understanding of forechecking, he, nevertheless, encounters difficulties translating his defensive reads into effective puck retrievals and creating space with his hands while controlling the puck. While showcasing slick cutback moves, overall, his stickhandling doesn't stand out.

If he joins the NCAA, Zetterberg will have the luxury of time to develop his game for North America, a route that has historically suited smaller-sized forwards well.

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This article is about:
NHL Prospect Report Arizona Coyotes BIK Karlskoga Brynäs IF Buffalo Sabres Frölunda HC Färjestad BK St. Louis Blues Vancouver Canucks Växjö Lakers HC Örebro HK SHL Noel Fransén Jonathan Lekkerimäki Noel Nordh Otto Stenberg Alexander Zetterberg Noah Östlund
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