Heading into the first round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, the San Jose Sharks are armed with the 11th overall selection. Last season was rough, and the reward will hopefully be an impact player, with someone projected in the top-10 almost certain to fall into Sharks’ lap at 11.
Each summer, we gather the SB Nation NHL sites and mock out the first round. Here’s how the draft board has played out so far:
1. Shane Wright — Montreal Canadiens
2. Logan Cooley — New Jersey Devils
3. Juraj Slafkovsky — Arizona Coyotes
4. Simon Nemec — Seattle Kraken
5. David Jiricek — Philadelphia Flyers
6. Cutter Gauthier — Columbus Blue Jackets
7. Joakim Kemell — Ottawa Senators
8. Matthew Savoie — Detroit Red Wings
9. Connor Geekie — Buffalo Sabres
10. Kevin Korchinski — Anaheim Ducks
With the 11th overall selection, Fear the Fin selects forward Jonathan Lekkerimaki from Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Hockey League.
Who is Jonathan Lekkerimaki?
A Swedish right-wing, Lekkerimaki draws to comparisons to players like Mike Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad and Kirill Kaprizov — all of whom are game-changing talent. Those comparisons speak to the potential of Lekkerimaki to be a 30-plus goal-scorer at the NHL-level, and San Jose could certainly use one of those.
Lekkermaki has spent his junior hockey career thus far with Djurgardens IF in the Swedish men’s juniors system. With the junior squad last season, he posted 35 points (20 goals, 15 assists) in 26 games, earning a promotion to the men’s team for 27 games, where he notched 7 goals and 2 assists. While the totals aren’t as impressive in the men’s league, it’s enough that the teenager was seeing regular ice-time on the top-tier adult team, alongside William Eklund (and the team’s top-scorer, Sharks legend Marcus Sorensen).
Representing Sweden with the U18 team at the 2022 World Juniors Championship, he added an incredible 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists) in six games.
Next season, he’s set to play in Sweden’s second-tier men’s league with Djurgardens.
The still 17-year-old Swede is ranked as highly as eighth-overall, with most rankings placing him somewhere in the back half of the top-10, but that’s not the only thing that makes him a perfect fit for the Sharks at 11th. He’s the very prototype of a player Sharks fans are familiar with, possessing a skill-level outranking many of the would-be Swedish snipers the team has cycled through.
Looking at prospects, especially outside of the top-10 selections, it’s important to qualify what skills are workable, and which ones may become a project. Lekkerimaki’s elite skill is his shot. It’s a difficult skill to teach and he comes by it naturally — or perhaps supernaturally, as Elite Prospects have ranked his shot as second-best among his entire draft class. That’s hard to pass over.
His puck-handling, as well, suggests a deftness with the puck that is easy to imagine being the central building block toward crafting Lekkerimaki into an NHL mainstay.
Why Not Lekkerimaki?
First of all, there’s the obvious: San Jose has a habit of scouring European leagues for free agent talent as a way of supplementing the draft. Doug Wilson and the front office have remained competitive by leveraging their scouting against other teams’ hesitance to take a swing on European free agents.
It has both worked (hello, Joonas Donskoi) and not worked (hello, Marcus Sorensen) over the years, but other teams are slowly catching up in that regard. Still, tracking progress from players jumping from European leagues to the NHL is more difficult than their Canadian juniors counterparts. It’s one thing to take that chance on a signing — it’s a bigger risk when you’re talking about the 11th overall pick and a player who has never played in North America and has limited juniors experience.
So the other half of this decision comes down to mitigating that risk: what skills might become a project?
For Lekkerimaki, it’s not just the unknown. What we do know about him is that his play away from the puck isn’t NHL-level yet. As a smaller player, standing at 5-foot-11 and just 172 pounds, he needs to be able to see the ice and set up plays better. The physical and mental aspects of his game leave you wanting, and without those historical comparisons that make CHL selections more of a “sure thing,” Lekkerimaki begins to look more and more like a player that will require a hefty investment.
That shot, though.