Oilers Signing Jokinen a Smart Bet

Even though the Edmonton Oilers were destined to get rid of Benoit Pouliot, doing so created a hole on the left side of the lineup. Pouliot’s buyout happened at a time it didn’t really need to and while few people were really sad to see him go, many started to wonder what the plan was. That plan got a little clearer on Friday when the Oilers signed free agent forward Jussi Jokinen to a one-year $1.1 million contract.

(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Jokinen will add depth to the Oilers roster and likely slot in right where Pouliot opened a hole. As an NHL veteran, with a past of proven production, he could easily outperform this new deal. He’s going to provide mentorship to players the Oilers have big plans for and he’ll be used in multiple situations. He’s an upgrade over Pouliot in many respects and he’s coming in at a much less expensive price-point.

In short, Jokinen is a smart bet by Oilers’ general manager Peter Chiarelli.

Jokinen’s Offense

Jokinen has played what many players could already have called a nice career in the NHL. Now 34, over that time, he’s had varied success, but he’s only two seasons removed from a 60-point campaign for the Florida Panthers in which he scored 18 goals and 42 assists in the 2015-16 season. He added four points in six games in that season’s playoffs.

Carolina Hurricane Jussi Jokinen – Photo by Andy Martin Jr

Jokinen has also enjoyed a season that saw him score 30 goals for the Carolina Hurricanes (2009-10) and another thaw saw him score 21 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins (2013-14). Even in his later years, if Jokinen can provide what he did last season (11 goals and 28 points) — a season that saw him receive a buyout from the Panthers — he’ll be worth every penny of the $1.1 million he’s being paid.

The fact that Florida bought out Jokinen this summer appears less about his usefulness, but more about shedding salary. These are the types of players the Oilers will be targeting.

His Functionality

Jokinen won’t just be asked to provide offense. The Finn will be asked to fill roles and holes all over the lineup. He’s comfortable playing any position and knows that his experience in the NHL will help him in Edmonton. “Twelve years in the NHL and six years were at left wing, three at centre, three at right wing. I feel comfortable at every position, wherever the team needs me,” he said.

An area where the Oilers really struggled last season was faceoffs. Jokinen, over his NHL career, has won them at over a 53 percent clip. While not necessarily a natural center, the team will employ a strategy of moving pieces around and one more player who can take draws — and win them — is key for the team’s versatility.

Finally, Jokinen has been a steady influence on the penalty kill and powerplay over his career. He’ll be expected to help in that capacity as well.

His Mentorship

Outside of his offense and functionality, it appears as though Jokinen will play a significant role in the mentorship of recent Oilers’ draftee Jesse Puljujarvi. Another Finnish player, Puljujarvi is much younger and still trying to make his way into the league and produce at a consistent level. The Oilers’ plans for Jokinen include helping Puljujarvi do so.

Jesse Puljujarvi (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

The Oilers have high hopes for Puljujarvi. They selected him fourth overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, and while he wowed at the Young Rookies Camp and in the preseason, he struggled in the regular season and was sent down to Bakersfield where he played well with the Oilers AHL affiliate team. Edmonton will keep Puljujarvi in the AHL if they think he’ll be a fourth-line player with the Oilers this season, but management believes he’ll crack the top-nine. Jokinen seems to believe that too.

Jokinen believes Puljujarvi has a bright NHL future. When asked about his experience playing with the youngster, “He has great potential,” said Jokinen. “I think with him now getting through a healthy summer and being able to train, he has one year under his belt so he can be a really good player next year.”

Jokinen has experience helping young players from Finland along. He did something similar in Florida with Aleksander Barkov. Should Jokinen not only provide more offense than Pouliot did, value throughout the lineup and mentorship to help get a kid like Puljujarvi going, he’ll be a great addition and one of the better value signings of the Oilers summer.