Where Does Jokipakka Fit in Calgary?

The impending arrival of the Vegas Golden Knights to the National Hockey League and the accompanying expansion draft has teams on edge. While typically teams would have several years to evaluate where a player fits within the organization’s plans, the expansion draft has forced teams to accelerate their evaluation of players that will likely be exposed to Vegas for selection. One of the players under the most scrutiny by the Calgary Flames is Finnish defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka.

What’s His Role?

One of three assets acquired by the Flames at last year’s trade deadline in the trade that sent Kris Russell to the Dallas Stars – the other pieces were forward prospect Brett Pollock and a second-round selection the Flames used to take Western Hockey League star Dillon Dube – Jokipakka has been used almost exclusively as a third-pairing defender during his time in Calgary. Therein lie the benefits of playing in Calgary and the big challenge for Jokipakka in terms of developing into a fully-fledged, tough-minutes NHL blueliner.

Jokipakka is just 25 years old. He’s Calgary’s third-best left shot defenseman, which means he slots in behind Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie on the depth chart. That placement means that he typically doesn’t play a ton during each game. Of the team’s regular defensemen, Jokipakka plays the least per game – he’s about three full minutes behind Deryk Engelland in that respect.

Not playing a lot means that it can be tough to get into a rhythm or to stay engaged in the game, and in a close game it’s not uncommon to see Jokipakka make a gaffe and sit for minutes afterwards rather than getting back out there and working out the kinks (as happens with the team’s top-tier blueliners). Perhaps as a result of this situation, Jokipakka has been a healthy scratch 14 times over the first 47 games of the Flames’ season in favour of dressing younger defenders such as Brett Kulak and Tyler Wotherspoon.

What Does the Future Hold?

With Giordano, Brodie and Dougie Hamilton on the roster, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Jokipakka will be exposed in the expansion draft. Of the defensemen expected to be exposed – along with Jokipakka, there are Kulak, Wotherspoon and AHLer Ryan Culkin – Jokipakka has the most NHL experience and is the player about whom scouts likely know the most.

That said, his usage in Calgary has made it difficult to get a handle on what precisely he is at the NHL level. He hasn’t established himself as particularly good or bad at most aspects of the big league game and while that does likely make him expendable in the grand scheme of things for the Flames – Kulak and Wotherspoon were able to slot in without much drop-off – it also doesn’t rule out that he could be developed further in an environment where he can be afforded an expanded role and more ice time.

Unfortunately for Jokipakka, Calgary does not seem to be a place where that can happen for the time being. Depending on what happens at the expansion draft, perhaps Vegas could be a better fit for his long-term development.