EDMONTON – Jesse Joensuu was one of the least heralded free-agent signings the Edmonton Oilers made this summer, but he is starting to make a name for himself now.
The 25-year-old Finnish forward scored his third goal of the pre-season and was named the game’s first star as the Edmonton Oilers won their third consecutive game, defeating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Monday night.
After bouncing back and forth between the New York Islanders and their American Hockey League affiliate in Bridgeport Sound over a four-year period, Joensuu went back to Europe and played in the Swedish Elite League during the 2011-2012 season and rediscovered his game.
A sports hernia limited Joensuu to just seven games in his return to the Islanders last season before he opted to sign on with Edmonton.
It has been a long road for the six-foot-four, 210-pound winger, but he feels he is finally poised to make his mark on a regular basis at the NHL level.
“I’m just really happy that I have been able to compete with everyone at the same level and that I am not hurt,” said Joensuu, who has four points in four exhibition outings.
“Compared to my previous training camps with the Islanders, this is like night and day. I feel like I belong and am competing at the same level as the guys I want to play with. Before I was just trying to survive and didn’t feel comfortable at all.”
Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins said that Joensuu has made a very good case for himself to this point.
“He has played nothing but well for me,” said Eakins. “We need that size and he brings that. He protects the puck well and is strong on his stick. He made some big plays on the boards in our zone in this game and those are critical plays. Everybody likes the flash of a nice pass or a big hit, but you win the game along the wall just inside the blue-line. …
“The other thing I like is that he is vocal on the bench. You don’t get that a lot sometimes from the European guys. He is vocal and into the game, which is another thing we value here.”
Will Acton also scored for the Oilers (4-1-1), who did not dress many of their top offensive threats for the game.
Chris Thorburn replied for the Jets (1-3-2), who have lost three straight in exhibition play.
It took a while for either team to get on the board in a penalty-filled first period. The Jets finally started the scoring with just under a minute remaining as a Thorburn shot that appeared to be going wide hit the stick of Oilers starter Devan Dubnyk and deflected into the net.
Edmonton tied the game just under three minutes into the second period when Tyler Pitlick put the puck in front of the net for a hard-charging Joensuu to direct past Jets goalie Edward Pasquale. It was Joensuu’s third goal of the pre-season.
The Oilers went up 2-1 midway through the second period, when Acton deflected an Anton Belov point shot through Pasquale’s legs.
Dubnyk made up for his gaffe earlier in the game with a five-alarm glove save on Olli Jokinen late in the second on a Winnipeg power play.
There was no scoring in the third period.
The Oilers play again tomorrow at home to the New York Rangers. The Jets are off until Thursday when they will welcome the Boston Bruins.
Notes: It was the second pre-season meeting between the two teams. The Jets won the first match-up 3-2 on Sept. 18. … The Jets were making their first visit to Rexall Place since March 1996. The Oilers and Jets will face off to start the regular season on Oct. 1 in Edmonton. … After being roughed up in their last game against the Vancouver Canucks, resulting in a broken jaw and several missing teeth to centre Sam Gagner, the Oilers added some toughness in the form of Steve McIntyre on Monday. McIntyre, who will be joining the Oil for the third time in his career, was picked up off of waivers from Pittsburgh. … Hulking 6-5 centre prospect Adam Lowry played in his first game of the pre-season for Winnipeg since hurting his neck in the first scrimmage of camp.