One wouldn’t know it from his 17 points in 20 games or his place as the Hurricanes’ second-highest scorer behind Eric Staal
, but there was a point in this young season when Jussi Jokinen
That stretch seemed like a distant memory when the Finnish forward notched points on all four Hurricanes goals in a 5-4 shootout loss at Pittsburgh, including the game-tying tally with under a minute left that gave him a total of 8 points in three games.
While his huge outing against the Penguins served as the culmination of steady improvement from last season’s 30-goal scorer – he had back-to-back 2-assist games prior to that - there was a time when nothing seemed to come very easily.
“Confidence is a very big thing as a hockey player, and I wasn’t competing as good as I can,” said Jokinen.
When Sergei Samsonov was injured during the preseason, Jokinen eventually found himself on the top line with Staal after notching 3 points in the team’s first two games in Helsinki. However, he would go on to equal that total over his next 10 contests, with coach Paul Maurice ultimately demoting him through the lineup. Jokinen played a season-low 9:30 on Nov. 6 against Florida, which was a far cry from the 17:28 he logged on opening night.
“Playing on the fourth line is kind of a wake-up call,” said Jokinen. “I talked a lot with Mo all the time and we both agreed I wasn’t playing as well as I could play and there were guys playing better and earning more minutes.”
“It was a place for him to go, find his game and then come back,” said Maurice.
During the worst of it, Maurice would use Jokinen’s name in the conversation about which player or players would serve as a healthy scratch on any particular night. It never happened, as the coach continued to believe that the player could get out of his funk and even gave him time on the power play, rare for a fourth-liner, to help restore his confidence and prove his worth.
Dialogue between the two continued throughout the process, which seems to have helped speed things up.
“So much of that communication is made easy by his personality and understanding of the game,” said Maurice. “It’s (more) difficult when a guy doesn’t understand or agree with you about how he’s playing.”
“I like a coach I can communicate with a lot, and Mo is like that,” said Jokinen.
With the top three forwards lines staying relatively unchanged as of late, Jokinen seems to have found a home playing with Brandon Sutter, who has himself returned to form after some early-season injury struggles, and the surprising Patrick Dwyer, whose 5 goals have him just 2 away from his single-season career high, set last season.
It was a unit Maurice cited as his best both offensively and defensively in recent games.
“He had to change his mindset about points as an indicator of how well you play,” said Maurice of Jokinen. “Now he’s playing on a line that has more defensive responsibility, which he can do.”
Despite the rocky start to his season, Jokinen, who considers himself more of a second-half player anyway, should now feel quite comfortable with his current points total due to his recent run. Although he was more consistent out of the gates last season, he had 5 fewer points through 20 games and is now on pace to better his total from his breakout 2009-10 campaign.
“Last year I proved I can play at a high level in this league, and obviously I wanted to do that this year,” he said.
With his early-season hiccup out of the way, the Hurricanes can again count on him to do just that.