Canucks Prospects Were Underwhelming at 2023 WJC

Unfortunately for both Sweden and Finland, they walked away with nothing at the 2023 World Junior Championship (WJC) as the former fell to the United States 8-7 in the bronze medal game, and the latter got eliminated by their Nordic rivals in the quarters. As a result, every Vancouver Canucks prospect that played in the tournament will return home with nothing to show for their efforts. On a positive note, though, Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Lekkerimaki had their moments throughout which should give fans a little hope for the future. But overall, there wasn’t much to cheer about as a Canucks fan watching these World Juniors.

Jonathan Lekkerimaki – Team Sweden

Lekkerimaki and his 2022 Under-18 World Championship linemates Liam Ohgren and Noah Ostlund were not the earth-shakers of the 2023 WJC, in fact, they barely registered on the Richter scale. While Lekkerimaki scored a goal and recorded four points in seven games, he was not the dominant force that led the 2022 U18s with five goals and 15 points. His fellow 2022 first-rounders Ohgren and Ostlund also didn’t do much better with only six points combined, after 19 at those same U18s where Sweden won gold. Add that lack of production to the disappearance of Fabian Lysell, and you can see why Sweden failed to medal at this year’s tournament.

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

But back to Lekkerimaki. He did show flashes of his talent in the limited ice time he received from head coach Magnus Havelid, including his NHL-caliber wrist shot which he showcased against Austria in Sweden’s 11-0 opening-day win. Except it was against a now-relegated team on a goaltender miles away from the NHL.

Then as the competition ramped up, Lekkerimaki’s ice time went down, which usually leads to fewer points and opportunities. He also only saw 5:36 in the quarter-final versus Finland and 4:24 in the semi-final against Czechia. Because of that, I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that his four points lead to confidence and a strong finish to his season in the HockeyAllsvenskan, where he only has five points in 20 games.

Elias Pettersson – Team Sweden

Of the three Canucks prospects at the 2023 WJC, Pettersson impressed me the most. Yes, he had some cringe-worthy moments defensively, but for a third-rounder, he acquitted himself surprisingly well against some of the best young talent the world can offer. In fact, he was used a lot more than I expected at the outset of the tournament when I predicted that he would only see bottom-pairing minutes if any at all. Havelid actually trusted Pettersson to be one of his top-four defenders, playing him over 17 minutes five times in seven games – including 19:32 in the semi-final against Czechia with a spot in the gold medal game on the line.

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Pettersson ultimately finished with three assists and a plus-4 in the plus/minus column, which is decent for a defenceman that was not considered a marquee addition to Team Sweden when their final roster was released. Known for his mobility, good first pass, and burgeoning two-way game, he is looking more and more like a steal for the Canucks with every game he plays. Even though he struggled defensively at times, he grew in that aspect as the tournament went along, especially against Team USA in the bronze medal game where he fearlessly blocked a shot on the penalty kill and hip-checked Logan Cooley in open ice.

All in all, Pettersson has a lot of raw tools that could be organized into an NHL toolbox in the future. If or when that happens, the Canucks will have to figure out how to have two players named Elias Pettersson co-exist on the same ice surface.

Aku Koskenvuo – Team Finland

Finally, we have goaltender Aku Koskenvuo. Tapped on the shoulder to start Finland’s first game against Switzerland – a game they lost 3-2 in overtime – he struggled to have a solid outing in the crease at the 2023 WJC. Ending his first World Juniors with a 4.47 goals-against average (GAA) and .842 save percentage (SV%) in two starts, he ultimately allowed nine goals against, some of which should have been stopped.

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Koskenvuo was plagued by shots that leaked through him, none worse than the overtime winner by Switzerland’s Attilio Biasca that nicked off his glove and into the net. He also had a Rutger McGroarty shot trickle through his five-hole and a Luke Hughes blast hit the underside of his glove and carom in against the United States where Finland lost 6-2. Giving way to Jani Lampinen for three of the five games, I think it’s safe to say that he needs more seasoning before he’s ready to make the jump to pro. He will now return to Harvard in the NCAA and hopefully get more than just the two starts he’s received thus far.

2023 WJC Was Disappointing For Canucks Fans, 2024 Should Be Better

The Canucks did not have a standout prospect like Cooley, Joshua Roy, or Dylan Guenther at this edition of the tournament. However, depending on where they finish in the standings at the end of the season, fans might be able to cheer on the likes of Leo Carlsson or Adam Fantilli next year. If all goes well, they might even have the host nation house two of their top prospects in Carlsson and Lekkerimaki. Regardless, they should have another high-end youngster suit up for the 2024 WJC in Gothenburg, Sweden; unless they win the draft lottery and end up with Connor Bedard, that is.