Joonas Donskoi signed a four-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche on July 1 as an unrestricted free agent.
Donskoi, 27, was originally selected in the fourth round (99th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers. He played with Kärpät in Finland's top professional league, Liiga, from 2009-15. His team won back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015 and Donskoi won the Jari Kurri Award as league playoff MVP in 2015.
The 6-foot and 190-pound winger signed with the San Jose Sharks in 2015 and spent four seasons with the organization. He has recorded 122 points (45 goals, 77 assists) in 283 NHL contests and has added 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 50 career Stanley Cup Playoff appearances.
San Jose qualified for the playoffs every year that he was there and made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. Donskoi was responsible for the winning goal in Game 3 of that series, becoming the sixth rookie in NHL history score in overtime in the Stanley Cup Final, and recorded 12 total points (six goals, six assists) during the Sharks' 2016 playoff run.
The Raahe, Finland, native recently sat down with ColoradoAvalanche.com to discuss his career so far and his goals for the 2019-2020 season in Colorado.
This will be your first season in Colorado after signing with the Avalanche this summer, what are your goals for the year?
"Personally, I want to step into the next level. I feel like I've been in the league for four years and I feel like I haven't gotten the full potential out of myself yet. That's the number one goal for myself. For the team, I think we have a chance at success for this year. I played against this team last year in the playoffs when I was with the Sharks and I saw a lot of the good, young guys we have on this team this year. We've got a couple of new additions, and I feel like we really have a chance at success."
What was the hardest part about leaving San Jose after four seasons?
"I have such good memories there. My rookie year we went to the Stanley Cup Final and I was blessed to play. That's a great organization. I was there for four years and every year we had a chance to win the Stanley Cup, so I have a lot of playoff experience and know what it is like to be on a successful team. That's what I am trying to bring here too. There are a lot of young guys on this team, so I am trying to be an example."
You were active with community events in San Jose, is being involved something that is important to you?
"I was open to doing everything that the Sharks foundation was doing. I'm super excited for stuff like that, and stuff that I can do to help get the community engaged. I'm more than happy to do stuff like that."
You played for Kärpät in Finland's top professional league (Liiga) from 2009-15, what was your time with that organization like?
"That was great. I played there for five or six years. I became professional when I was 17 and I left the team when I was 23 and that was a huge learning experience for me. I grew a lot as a player, but especially as a human being and as an athlete. Kärpät made it possible for me to become an NHL player, so I am forever thankful for that organization."
What was it like to win back-to-back championships with Kärpät?
"That was great. There were a lot of experienced players playing for my team that had some NHL experience and I was learning a lot from them. I learned what it takes to be a successful team and all of the small details that you have to do right every day during the season to become successful. I've been blessed to be a part of lots of successful teams in my past."
What is different about playing pro hockey in North America?
"There's a lot. Just the game-playing style is super different. In Europe we have a bigger rink and different tactics. It's so different because there is more room on the ice, so it was a huge change to come here. Obviously, the guys are a lot more skillful too; they are bigger and stronger. It's a huge step to come from Finnish league to the NHL."
Video: Joonas Donskoi on signing with the Avalanche
What did it feel like to play in the Stanley Cup Final in 2016?
"That was fun. They were actually talking about me playing in Finland and then my first year coming to the NHL first of all making it to the team was huge. Also, making the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then the Stanley Cup Final my first year was kind of overwhelming and everything happened so fast. Looking back now, we had a great team and had a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Obviously, it was a good memory. It's still kind of frustrating that we didn't win the Stanley Cup, but that for sure gives me motivation to practice because I want to win someday."
How has the Avs training camp been different than your previous camps with the Sharks?
"We didn't do skating tests in San Jose like we did here. That was the hardest thing I've ever done. But I mean, not much. There are always a lot of young guys who want to come in and take the spot in the lineup so it's an exciting time. Everybody just wants to show what they can do, so it's a lot of fun."