WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets have signed Olli Jokinen to a two-year deal worth US$9 million.
Winnipeg added the veteran Finnish centre Monday on the second day of NHL free agency.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was looking for an upgrade in size among his top-six forwards and feels he found it with the six-foot-three, 210-pound Jokinen.
“He has the size, he’s got a tremendous amount of experience, he’s had great consistency over the years,” said Cheveldayoff during a conference call. “We believe that with adding the size of (free agent Alexei Ponikarovsky) and now Jokinen, we’re a much bigger and harder team to play against.”
The move represents Winnipeg’s biggest signing since free agency opened on Sunday, when they inked forward Ponikarovsky and defenceman Derek Meech.
“Very excited about joining the Winnipeg Jets and getting a chance to play in front of the loudest fans in Canada!” tweeted Jokinen on Monday.
Jokinen has scored 20 or more goals in seven of his 14 NHL seasons with Calgary, the L.A. Kings, New York Islanders, Florida, Phoenix, and the New York Rangers, where he was traded to by the Flames during the 2009-2010 season.
Calgary brought Jokinen back the next season and he finished with 17 goals and 54 points.
Cheveldayoff will not only look to Jokinen for leadership among the Jets’ young roster, but to help increase production among the teams’ established forwards like 30-goal scorer Evander Kane.
“Any time you can add a player of this stature, a player that has abilities to make plays and to score, it creates other opportunities for players like Evander,” said Cheveldayoff.
“You have to respect players like Olli when they’re on the ice all the time, and I think that attention helps other players to play their game as well.”
The contract marks a substantial pay increase for the 33-year-old who decided to test free agency after parting ways with the Flames. He made $3 million last season in Calgary, where he had a strong year with 23 goals and 61 points.
The Flames filled the hole left by Jokinen’s departure by signing centre Jiri Hudler to a $16-million, four-year deal.
Cheveldayoff added that part of the reason Jokinen chose Winnipeg was because he wanted to be part of a young team with a bright future.
“He’s very excited about being at the forefront of a group that has young players; that has a chance to continue to grow and get better and he’s really looking forward to contributing in that regard.”