3 Canucks Prospects to Watch at 2023 World Juniors

The 2023 World Juniors, which are being held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New Brunswick this year, will begin on Dec. 26. Featuring some of the best young talent hockey has to offer, the Vancouver Canucks haven’t had a marquee prospect take part in this tournament since Vasily Podkolzin captained Team Russia in 2021.

Related: THW’s Guide to the 2023 World Junior Championship

Once again, Canucks fans will be keeping a close eye on Team Sweden as Jonathan Lekkerimaki and Elias Pettersson were named to their nation’s final roster last week. Team Finland will also feature Aku Koskenvuo, a recent 2021 Draft pick who is playing for Harvard in the NCAA this season. Let’s take a closer look at all three prospects as they get ready to compete for gold.

Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Right Wing, Team Sweden

After a 2021-22 season that saw Lekkerimaki dominate the J20 circuit with 20 goals and 35 points in 26 games and hold his own against men in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), everyone was excited to see what he could do in his draft-plus-one (D+1) year in 2022-23. Unfortunately, he has not gotten off to a good start as he only has one goal and five points in 20 games and has not scored since Oct. 7.

Jonathan Lekkerimaki Vancouver Canucks 2022 Draft
Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Lekkerimaki is also recovering from a concussion he suffered in a Nov. 26 game against Vasteras IK, which almost derailed his chances of participating in the tournament. Luckily for him, signs are looking good as Rick Dhaliwal recently reported that he has been skating with the team and could be ready for either the pre-tournament games or the first game on Dec. 26.

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If Lekkerimaki does end up playing, hopefully this will be a jump-off point for him to salvage an otherwise disappointing season so far. Known for his offensive creativity and NHL-caliber shot, he should be thriving in a lesser league like the HockeyAllsvenskan. But he hasn’t, at least not yet. Maybe playing for his country amongst other first-round talent is the tonic he needs to get going. Considering he’s had success in the past at these types of tournaments – 15 points at the 2022 U18s come to mind – I wouldn’t be surprised if he did just that.

Elias Pettersson, Defence, Team Sweden

The defenceman with the exact first and last name as the Canucks’ superstar center is having quite the season of his own overseas with four goals and 13 points in 12 games with Orebro HK J20 in the J20 Nationell. He also recently scored his first SHL goal for Orebro HK on Dec. 8 and has not seen the J20 Nationell since Nov. 25. In fact, he has now played 24 games in Sweden’s top league and is receiving 14-15 minutes of regular ice time. Not bad for an 18-year-old.

Related: Vancouver Canucks 2022 Draft: Meet the New Prospects

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It remains to be seen how big of a role Pettersson will have on Team Sweden, as they are bringing eight defencemen to the tournament. Headlined by 2022 second-rounder Calle Odelius and 2023 top prospect Axel Sandin-Pellikka, he might find himself in the press box more often than not. That said, he could be given more opportunities by new head coach Magnus Havelid considering how well he has played for his nation over the past few months. Through seven games in various tournaments, he has three goals and four points, all while carrying an impressive plus-15 in the plus/minus column (from ‘Canucks prospects tracker: The World Juniors come calling for a couple of Swedes’, The Province, 12/11/22).

When Pettersson was drafted, scouts raved about his size (6-foot-3, 196 pounds), mobility, and sound two-way game. So, in a short tournament where Sweden will be without the hulking presence of Simon Edvinsson, not to mention only one other defenceman on the roster that is over 6-foot-1 (Adam Engstrom), we might be surprised by how big of a role he receives.

Aku Koskenvuo, Goaltender, Team Finland

Rounding out the trifecta of positions at this year’s WJC is goaltender Aku Koskenvuo, who was drafted 137th overall by the Canucks in 2021. The 6-foot-4 favourite of goaltending coach Ian Clark has had a tale of two seasons – one in North America and one overseas. Playing for Harvard in the NCAA, he has struggled to get starts, appearing in only two games and recording a 1-1 record along with a 3.56 goals-against average (GAA) and .875 save percentage (SV%). Wearing the lion for Team Finland, however, has been a different story. In three games over the course of various international tournaments this season, he has yet to lose a game and has an impressive 1.59 GAA and .925 SV%.

Those numbers are probably why Koskenvuo was named to Finland’s roster. While he probably won’t be the starter – that will go to Niklas Kokko, a second-rounder of the Vegas Golden Knights – he might get into some games against lesser competition as the backup. But stranger things have happened at the WJC in the past. Remember when Devon Levi was initially the third-string goaltender for Team Canada and ended up breaking Carey Price’s SV% record as the starter in 2021? He wasn’t a first-round pick either, but a seventh-round selection of the Florida Panthers.

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Like I said, stranger things have happened. So, if Koskenvuo can put his best foot forward and perform when he does get the net, maybe he can surprise everyone and become the next Levi, or even just another goaltender that frustrates the competition like many others have done in Finnish WJC history – Tuukka Rask, anyone?

Sweden & Finland’s Schedule at the 2023 WJC

Sweden and Finland will be the countries to watch at the 2023 World Juniors if you’re a Canucks fan – that is if all of Lekkerimaki, Pettersson, and Koskenvuo suit up. Regardless, both countries begin their pursuit for gold on Dec. 26. Here is the full schedule of games for the group stage:

Team Sweden

  • Dec. 26 – vs. Austria, 10:30 AM PT
  • Dec. 27 – vs. Germany, 10:30 AM PT
  • Dec. 29 – vs. Czechia, 10:30 AM PT
  • Dec. 31 – vs. Canada, 3:30 PM PT

Team Finland

  • Dec. 26 – vs. Switzerland, 8 AM PT
  • Dec. 27 – vs. Slovakia, 8 AM PT
  • Dec. 29 – vs. Latvia, 8 AM PT
  • Dec. 31 – vs. United States, 1 PM PT