It’s official — the Ottawa Senators will pick seventh overall at the 2022 NHL Draft. While they didn’t move up or down from the season’s final standings, management now has a definite number they can work with, and they can start looking at their options on how to best improve the franchise.
Trading the pick has been a hot topic as of late, especially with rumours swirling around Minnesota Wild forward Kevin Fiala. Armed with a top-10 selection, the Senators could make a convincing offer for the 30-goal scorer. They also need a strong top-four defender, preferably with a right-handed shot, before they become legitimate playoff contenders. They could turn to the trade market for that player, too, and John Klingberg has generated some trade interest around the league.
Related: THW 2022 NHL Draft Guide
However, with Pierre Dorion’s spotty trade history and the risk that an incoming player may cost too much, the best option is still to keep the pick and grab the best player available. Although the 2022 draft class is not as deep as 2020 or 2023, there still are several top-tier prospects who could give Ottawa exactly what they need. Right-handed defender David Jiricek fits the organization’s mould perfectly but likely will be gone by the seventh pick. So that leaves a scoring winger, and there are few better options than Djurgårdens IF’s Jonathan Lekkerimäki.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki Scouting Report
Lekkerimäki is as dynamic a player as they come, and it was evident at the 2022 U18 World Championships. In six games, the Swedish winger put up an incredible five goals and 15 points to lead the tournament in scoring and propel his team to a gold medal finish. While he was considered one of the better prospects heading into the 2022 NHL Draft, his performance all but confirmed that he’ll get selected in the top 10.
It’s not the first time Lekkerimäki has wowed audiences with his skill. At the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Tournament, he finished with five goals to lead Sweden and help them claim a bronze medal. In Sweden’s J20 Nationell, he had 1.35 points per game and 0.77 goals per game. Had he played a full season there, he could have finished with 38 goals and 67 points, which would have placed him fifth and eighth in the league, respectively. Only Liam Öhgren had a better season among draft-eligible players in the J20 league.
In the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), Lekkerimäki wasn’t as dominant, but still, he put up impressive numbers for a 17-year-old. In 26 appearances, he scored seven goals and nine points, giving him the highest SHL scoring pace of any draft-eligible prospect. He also tied for second with Marco Kasper in goals among U20 players, placing second only to Detroit Red Wings’ prospect Theodor Niederbach. Few players have had such a strong debut in the SHL, one of the best hockey league’s in the world outside of the NHL.
Offence is the name of Lekkerimäki’s game. He loves putting pucks in the back of the net, and he’s very good at it. One aspect that helps him score goals is a dangerously quick wrist shot that is packed with power and can get significant height before reaching its target. He can fire it from anywhere, too, and although it may not always be accurate, it’s only going to get better with time.
But the wrist shot is far from his only weapon; according to The Hockey Writers’ Alex Hobson, he “…will do quite literally anything to find the back of the net.” It’s why he has been one of Sweden’s premier goal scorers, and that should terrify NHL goalies.
But maybe what makes his offensive prowess so special is his vision and patience. He is always watching and waiting for his opponents to make mistakes, and thus, is always ready to capitalize on a minor slip, whether that be sliding into a gap or sending a quick pass to an open teammate. He is a deceptive puck handler, a strong passer, a great skater, and no slouch on defence. But this is a player you’ll want pressing the attack as often as possible because he’s just so good at generating offence.
Senators Need a Winger for Stützle
The Senators are looking for a winger for Tim Stützle, who suffered from inconsistent linemates last season and didn’t get to find that chemistry enjoyed by the top line of Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, and Drake Batherson. Yet, despite the challenges, Stutzle still took a big step forward this season, scoring 22 goals and 58 points in 79 games, which ranked second on the team. Not since Matt Duchene was on the team has someone scored over 50 points and come in second in scoring, and he’s just in his second year in North America. This kid is going places, that’s for sure.
Just imagine for a minute how much deadlier Stützle could be if he had a linemate that he meshed with perfectly as he and J.J. Peterka gelled back in the 2021 World Juniors for Germany. Together, the pair put an incredible nine goals and 20 points in just five games, and together with Florian Elias, the trio was the highest-scoring line in the tournament. The reason it worked so well is that Peterka, on top of being an excellent skater and hard worker, is a pure goal-scorer. Alongside a dynamic playmaker like Stützle, the pair was unstoppable.
However, the Senators have been so far unable to find that perfect fit for their German phenom. His most common linemates in 2021-22 were Connor Brown and Alex Formenton, and together they scored 10 goals while allowing nine over 175 minutes of ice time. While that line contributed the second-most goals, they were only average at generating offence; the line controlled the puck for nearly 55 percent of the games they were together yet scored on less than 10 percent of their shots. The Senators’ top line, on the other hand, controlled the puck less than 50 percent but had a shooting percentage of over 14 percent.
One would think that Formenton, a speedy goal-scoring winger, would gel well with Stützle, but the two just didn’t develop strong chemistry throughout the season. When someone replaced Formenton, the line was much more effective, the line was much more effective; Brown, Tkachuk, and Stützle had an average shooting percentage of over 14 percent, while Tkachuk, Batherson, and Stützle shot at just under 14 percent. Neither line was used frequently and was created out of necessity due to injuries, but Stützle certainly worked much better with his line without Formenton.
What Does Lekkerimäki Bring to the Senators?
In a previous article, I described why the Senators should draft Juraj Slafkovsky should he be available: he’s big, physical, and a dynamic offensive winger. He’s been one of the best goal-scorers in his draft class, which the team desperately needs, and he’s close to being ready for the NHL. However, it’s almost a guarantee he’ll be one of the first three players off the board in July, and so Ottawa will need to find goals from someone else. That may make Lekkerimäki seem like a consolation prize, but that’s far from the truth, especially when looking at how he can mesh with other members of the team.
First and foremost, Lekkerimäki is a finisher. He’s always aware of the play, and although he’s not often the player carrying the puck, he’s in the right position to take a pass and bury it. Take the clip below as an example of how he can create space with just a little patience and creativity. Also, pay close attention to the pass from veteran Dick Axelsson, who gets the primary assist.
Now, watch the following clip where Stützle feeds Peterka the puck, which results in an excellent scoring attempt. Stützle is the primary puck carrier in the play and is quickly targeted by the Swiss players, but before the puck gets taken from him, he sends it to Peterka, who is completely left alone in the neutral zone. With a burst of speed, he charges towards the net and nearly puts the puck away, but the goalie stands strong.
The two plays are remarkably similar in that one player brings the puck up to the neutral zone, sees their winger streaking in ready for the pass, and sends a strong pass to create a dangerous odd-man rush. In these plays, Peterka and Lekkerimäki fill a similar role in these situations, but they aren’t just recipients of good passes. It took a high level of awareness to see what their teammate was about to do, then figure out a way to capitalize on it, and finally a burst of speed to finish the play. There are several other examples of Lekkerimäki scoring similarly to how Peterka and Stützle combined for a goal to the point that they seem to be very similar players, or at least playing very similar roles.
It was a mystifying choice to pass on Peterka in the 2020 draft, despite being available in the second round. But they now have the opportunity to give Stützle a similar partner who possesses more skill and a better shot than his former World Junior teammate. Lekkerimäki will almost certainly be available at seventh overall, and though he likely is several years away from making his NHL debut, there don’t seem to be too many other players who fit so perfectly into the Senators’ plans.
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An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.