Of the players Anaheim
acquired before last week’s NHL trade deadline, Petteri Nokelainen may have flown most under the radar. It’s understandable since the 23-year-old has all of 15 points in 107 career games. But much like a former European center that has since departed the Ducks, Nokelainen’s value may lie more on the defensive aspects of the game and the faceoff circle, where he’s is already becoming one of the league’s best.
|"That is a positive," Carlyle said of Nokelainen's faceoff success. "Starting with the puck gives you more of a chance. Maybe he's auditioning for a higher level if he can continue to do that." |
In his first two games with the Ducks, Nokelainen has won an impressive 16-of-25 faceoffs (64 percent). For the season, the center is first in the league (among players with at least 100 faceoffs taken) with a win percentage of 63.6 percent. He was also Boston
’s leader in that category in 2007-08 (152 wins in 288 faceoffs, 52.8 percent). It’s all not a bad starting point in trying to replace the presence of Samuel Pahlsson, who was Anaheim
’s leader in that category (53.5 percent) prior to being dealt to Chicago
at the trade deadline.
“That is a positive,” said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle of Nokelainen’s penchant for faceoff success. “Starting with the puck gives you more of a chance. Maybe he’s auditioning for a higher level if he can continue to do that.”
Just one month ago, Nokelainen was worried his time in hockey might be over after enduring a horrific injury. In a game between the Bruins and Sharks at TD Banknorth Garden on Feb. 10, he took a high stick from Dan Boyle to his right eye with 30 seconds left in the first period. It didn’t look good as Nokelainen skated off the ice holding his face from the blow.
“It was definitely the scariest thing of my life,” Nokelainen said. “You can’t see anything with your right eye, and the only thing you can see with your left eye is the blood in your hands. You think the worst, for sure. But after a couple days, the doctors were really hopeful.”
|"I feel like I'm enjoying hockey more right now," Nokelainen said. "Here I can play on the penalty kill and get a bigger role in the team. I think this is a really good opportunity for my career." |
Luckily, Nokelainen would make a full recovery, but that would turn out to be his last game in a Bruins uniform, as he was traded to Anaheim
for Steve Montador in an early deal on the March 4 trade deadline day.
He left a Boston team that is tops in the league with 95 points to join the Ducks, who are in a dogfight with multiple teams for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. Yet Nokelainen says he is happier with his role now than he was during the first five months of the season in Beantown.
“I feel like I’m enjoying hockey more right now,” said the former first round pick (16th overall) of the New York Islanders in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. “You feel like a big part of the team when you’re getting more ice time. In Boston
, I was really limited. I didn’t play any special teams. Here I can play on the penalty kill and get a bigger role in the team. I think this is a really good opportunity for my career.”
Another bright side in coming to Anaheim
for Nokelainen, an Imatra, Finland
native, is the chance to play with his fellow countryman and boyhood idol Teemu Selanne
. “He's a guy who, when I was 10 years old, I had his poster on the wall,” Nokelainen said. “It’s kind of weird when you come in and you see the guy right there.”
Though the Ducks have suffered two heartbreaking 3-2 home defeats (to Dallas
) recently with all of their new players on the ice, the team continues to remain optimistic it can right the ship over the final 15 games. That includes Nokelainen, who has never wavered in his assessment of the Ducks since being brought to the team.
“We still have a great team here,” Nokelainen said. “We should make the playoffs. I definitely think we have a good shot. Every game counts right now for this team. It’s more like a playoff atmosphere.”
"We still have a great team here. We should make the playoffs. I definitely think we have a good shot. Every game counts right now for this team. It's more like a playoff atmosphere." - Petteri Nokelainen
Having a strong two-way center with a knack for winning draws will certainly help the Ducks down the stretch. It was also aid the team in the future, as Nokelainen is signed through the 2009-10 season, unlike any of the players that were dealt away from Anaheim
on the day of the trade deadline.
“He’s working very hard,” Selanne said. “He is going to get better also when he gets used to linemates and teammates. All the new guys, including Nokelainen, they are going to be really good.”