Like the iconic “Max Power,” Homer Simpson’s allegedly suave alias, Jyrki Jokipakka’s name “sounds good in your ear, but when you say it, you mustn’t fear, because his name can be said by anyone!”
Would a defenseman by any other name garner the same attention in his rookie season as Jyrki Jokipakka? The emerging blueliner quickly became a fan favorite based on his alliterative name. As a result, his Twitter mentions are through the roof:
Jyrki Jokipakka with an assist on Patrick Eaves' goal for Stars. I just wanted to type that name. #Blackhawks
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) March 22, 2015
9 y/o son just walked into the room, said "Jyrki Jokipakka" in a gremlin-like voice and walked out.
— Jen LC (@RegressedPDO) January 26, 2015
While the rhythmic moniker puts him in the spotlight, Jokipakka manages to play in the background. He doesn’t share Jamie Oleksiak’s towering height, or John Klingberg’s stealth in the speed game that suits Dallas’ offensive defensemen. The Stars already have a top-scoring rookie defenseman in Klingberg, but also a top goal-scoring veteran in Trevor Daley. Alex Goligoski also jumps into the net-front fray in dire situations. No, Jokipakka is not an offensive defenseman, or even a two-way player, for that matter.
What Jokipakka brings to the table is stability. He conveys confidence on the back end. Coming out of the Finnish leagues to complete his first season with the Texas Stars in 2013-14, this is no surprise. The Finnish national team is known for building their roster from the goaltender out, and placing an emphasis on defensive play. Jokipakka’s “defense first” mentality may reflect his development time with LeKi of the Mestis league, and Ilves of SM-liiga.
Watch as Jyrki Jokipakka makes a sharp pass at center ice, before taking the Blues’ defense out of the play on Cody Eakin’s goal:
Statistics Are Not Everything…
While the newcomer has yet to score his first NHL goal, this is no surprise for a young, stay-at-home defenseman. At age 23, Jokipakka stands at 6’3”, 210, with a solid stature similar to hard-checking teammate, Jamie Benn. In 47 games with Dallas, Jokipakka has only posted 10 assists and ranks second to last in relative Corsi/SAT percentage. Where Jokipakka fails statistically, he instead passes the eyeball test.
The Stars are the team that send both fancy stat skeptics and enthusiasts over the edge. The team’s statistics betray their play. This is a team that loses the games that they dominate statistically. The defensemen who fail the eyeball test somehow look great on paper, and those who fail statistically often make wise plays for which stats cannot account. The Stars are a mathematical aberration. As color analyst Daryl “Razor” Reaugh explains, “Statistics are like bikinis. They show a lot, but they don’t show everything.”
Jyrki Jokipakka does a great job on Marian Hossa one-on-one, steering him into the boards to prevent a scoring chance. #Blackhawks
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) March 22, 2015
When the time comes to clear the crease, Jokipakka makes the effort to be there. Hockey’s Future noted his tendency to fall victim to “crease crashers” earlier in his career, though he is the guy moving bodies out of the slot in recent games. His poor Corsi is indicative of his stay-at-home nature, and low point totals reflect this as well.
Jokipakka passes before he shoots in the offensive zone. If he is moving bodies away from the play in the defensive zone, he is not generating takeaways or blocking shots. Jokipakka also avoids hits, though he has the size to make a bigger physical display. So far, however, this style maintains his low penalty count.
Jyrki Jokipakka vs. Jamie Oleksiak
Brought up to fill a defensive hole following Patrik Nemeth’s injury, Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak each found ample opportunity to earn their spot on the NHL roster. Jokipakka has proven he can use his solid frame to steer top forwards to the perimeter, but also possesses an agility that Jamie Oleksiak lacks.
Both rookies share similar scoring stats. Oleksiak posted one goal and seven assists in 36 games with Dallas in 2014-15, only two points shy of Jokipakka’s 10 assists. With development, Oleksiak’s two-way play and experience with the North American game gives him an advantage. However, Jokipakka wasted no time adapting, and makes smarter, quicker decisions with the puck.
In his recent games with Dallas, Oleksiak did a great job of using his size to hold the line. The stark difference in physicality is evident, as Oleksiak far outweighs Jokipakka in hits per 60 minutes, with 10.21 to Jokipakka’s 2.89.
Both share similar offensive zone start percentages; Jokipakka with 56.3 OZS%, and Oleksiak with 54.1 OZS%. While this stat makes a statement about how a coach is using a seasoned veteran, it merely shows that these defensemen, along with Patrik Nemeth, are given the protected starts due to their inexperience. With time, divergence in this statistic will show how these defensemen each play a different role.
Oleksiak, of course, requires extra development time to learn to use his size to its greatest advantage. In the meantime, Jokipakka can develop his skills at the NHL level. This is a case of a seventh round pick beating out a first round draftee based on development time. With multiple long-term injuries haunting the Stars’ blue line early in the season, the team needed one of these two players to step up to the challenge with no time to spare.
In 47 games with the Stars, Jyrki Jokipakka is growing into a protective player who can serve his goalie well. While he is not the gargantuan, hard checking, quick pinching defenseman the Stars want, he is the defenseman they will need moving forward.
Going into the off-season, how do you compare Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak? How do you see these players’ roles growing and developing in the 2015-16 season?