Olli Jokinen knows a thing or two about toughing it out when things aren’t going his way. If there’s one thing he is, it’s resilient.
Prior to his six-year run of averaging 34 goals and 72 points, mostly with the Florida Panthers, Jokinen was a poster boy for failed early draft picks.
Selected third overall in 1997 behind Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau (one spot ahead of Roberto Luongo), Jokinen had four stagnant growth years to start his NHL career.
Billed as a ‘can’t-miss’ star since making the Finnish Elite League at 17 in 1996, Jokinen was ‘can’t-play’ instead when he came to North America.
First with Los Angeles, then the New York Islanders and Panthers from 1997 to 2002, Jokinen was just a potential-laden center who had zero staying power above the third or fourth line. While Thornton progressed from seven points to 41 to 60 to 71 his first four seasons, Jokinen went from 21 to 21 to 16 to 29.
Not bad for a third-rounder, but the third overall pick was supposed to do much, much more.
The light went on for Jokinen in his fifth season. When the hockey world was predicting new Panthers coach Mike Keenan would drive Jokinen into buying a one-way ticket back to Kuopio, that’s when everything clicked instead.
The speed, the size, the shot, the intensity, the offense. It all came together. The 2006-07 The Hockey News Yearbook called Jokinen the 41st best player in the game.
That’s why it has been so confounding to see Jokinen so unproductive late last season and the vast majority of this season. At 30, his skills have not diminished to the point where five goals in a 30-game stretch was warranted.
There have been many games when Jokinen moved the puck with the confidence of soggy lettuce. With a $5.25 million salary and Jarome Iginla on his wing, that was unacceptable.
But there are signs the Olli of old is coming back. He’s starting to skate with authority and move the puck with a mission. The finishing ability can’t be far behind.
Jokinen needs 31 goals and 57 points in his remaining 60 games to match his average of 34 and 72 during his glory years in Florida. Funny, but I think he’s a solid bet to do it, too.
This article also appeared in the Calgary Metro newspaper.