As the Pittsburgh Penguins continue another west coast jaunt against the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes, you can’t help but realize that the Penguins and GM Ray Shero have found another diamond in the rough. That diamond is the versatile forward Jussi Jokinen.
Acquired last season during Sidney Crosby‘s jaw injury to help solidify the center position, Jokinen has found a sweet spot alongside Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on the Penguins’ second-line. Jokinen is playing so well that it begs the question of whether or not he is a must sign player at the end of the season before he hits the free agent market.
Jokinen is just another name to add to the list of players that Shero has acquired who have paid huge dividends for the club when overlooked in the midst of the acquisition. Think about Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Matt Niskanen just to name a few. Jokinen was brought in for center depth, and now he is looking more than capable at the wing position alongside Malkin. The comfort level he has found with his new club was never more evident than his three-point (1G, 2A) night against the Kings.
Why would Jokinen be considered a must sign free agent at year’s end? Not only has he developed a chemistry with Malkin and the second-line, but he is also lethal in other situations. Jokinen has long been known as a power play specialist. He’s a player who is able to work the puck with efficiency and accuracy to create scoring opportunities. Jokinen is also a wizard in terms of the shootout. Shootouts are often overlooked, but those extra points come in handy when playoff seeding is on the line.
Most importantly is that Jokinen, at age 30, is having a stellar year. Jokinen’s career-high in points in a season (81 games) was with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009-10 when he garnered 30 goals and 35 assists for 65 points. For players that don’t have the last name Crosby and Malkin that is a solid season. So far this season through 54 games played Jokinen has put up 16 goals and 23 assists for 39 points. He would be a top three scorer on almost any NHL roster, but with the Penguins he is fifth on the roster in total points.
Projections have Jokinen finishing the season with over 50 points, but it is how he has solidified the second-line that makes him a must sign candidate at season’s end. If Jokinen were to leave Pittsburgh there would be a gaping hole, again, on Malkin’s wing. If Jokinen can be retained it keeps the Neal-Malkin-Jokinen line intact and allows a healthy Beau Bennett to play alongside Brandon Sutter who is desperate for some skill to be flanking him.
The decision to re-sign Jokinen goes beyond statistics but makes sense for the hockey club as a whole. Entering the offseason, whenever that may be for this talented Penguins squad, Jokinen should be a top priority for Shero and company.