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How high can Jokinen jump in Draft?

by John McGourty

Forward Justin Jokinen is the 54th-ranked North
American skater according to Central Scouting.
One of the more interesting questions emerging from the 2008 NHL Scouting Combine was Justin Jokinen's predicted draft spot. As the No. 54-ranked North American skater, he projects as a third- or fourth-round selection.

NHL teams have to decide whether they are getting the Minnesota high school junior right wing who had 26 goals and 51 points while playing with center Tyler Johnson -- now at Colorado College -- or the senior center who had only 21 goals and 39 points while playing alongside younger players.

Now, factor in that Jokinen, without Johnson, led Cloquet to a 15-12-2 record in 2007-08 and the state Class AA tournament for only the second time in 15 years. Jokinen was nominated for the prestigious state Mr. Hockey Award as the outstanding senior high school player in Minnesota, and he was an honorable mention on the 2008 Associated Press All-State Minnesota boys hockey team.

Jokinen is 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds, with plenty of room to grow, and NHL teams sure are keen on big centers with a scoring touch. Add his excellent performance at the physical testing at the Combine, and Jokinen could go even earlier than expected. Central Scouting doesn't release the results of physical testing, except to the NHL member teams, but it was obvious Jokinen was among the best in the vertical leap, an indication of lower-body strength.

"Justin moved to center this year," said NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee. "He ended up carrying his team to the state tournament. He is tall and skinny right now, but he’s a lot like Jamie Langenbrunner was at that age, with a little bit different intensity than Langenbrunner had. When Justin kicks that intensity up he has that snap and finesse that allows him to make big plays.

"He can come down on the defenseman, use him as a screen and snap the puck off to surprise the goalie. He's one of those guys that has the uncanny ability to put the puck in the net. I think he can be a goal scorer at any level; he just needs to get stronger."

Jokinen will tell you that Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin is his favorite player and that he tries to model his game after the 2008 Rocket Richard Trophy winner, but other observers say he reminds them more of Cloquet's Langenbrunner, a Stanley Cup winner with the Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils.

"I've been watching Ovechkin since he came into the NHL," Jokinen said. "He has the same kind of style. He loves to have the puck and control of the game. And he can score."

His comparison to Langenbrunner is not surprising because of a long line of northeastern Minnesota hockey players and coaches whose hockey philosophy descends from legendary Eveleth coach Cliff Thompson. John Mayasich, Willard Ikola, John Mariucci, Johnny Matchefts and Oscar Almquist all played for Thompson and spread his influence throughout the state.

There's another reason why Jokinen may have elements of Langenbrunner's game within his own.

"I worked at a hockey camp with Jamie and I've been partners with him on drills," Jokinen said. "He teaches skills to little kids. Jamie is a really cool guy and he's funny."

Langenbrunner, clearly a hard worker and dedicated to winning, knows when it's time to have fun and when it's time to bear down, which led to him becoming the Devils’ captain this season. Jokinen gives the impression he has a similar attitude.

"Since I was little, I can't stand losing," Jokinen said. "Even if it's just a Nintendo game. If someone beats me, I get frustrated and just keep playing harder and harder."

Apparently, only Jokinen's 1- and 2-year-old contemporaries were spared his vengeful ways. He started skating at age 3 and later joined the Carlton Bulldogs.

"My cousins played hockey and I was close to them," Jokinen said. "I'd see them skating and tell my Mom that I wanted to play, too. Since then, she pushes me to keep playing."

Jokinen, the Cloquet first-line center, was pleased with this past season, although his statistics were not as good as the previous one.

"I had been playing right wing since my sophomore season," Jokinen said. "Guys graduated so I filled the center role and others stayed in positions that they were comfortable with. I played right wing the year before, a position that I like. I was playing with guys who were probably a little better than this year, guys who went on to play college hockey. Playing with someone of the same skill caliber made it a little easier."

Jokinen's junior success produced early offers from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., and the University of Anchorage-Alaska. His success this past season, which saw him rise from No. 60 in Central Scouting's mid-term rankings in January, produced more college offers. Some schools wanted him to play a year of junior hockey this coming season, but after starring against similar players in the Minnesota Elite League last fall, Jokinen felt he was ready for college.

Troy Jutting, the coach at the Minnesota State University-Mankato, agreed, so Jokinen will go there in September unless the NHL team that drafts him has other ideas.

"It's close to home yet far enough to be on my own," Jokinen said. "They have new facilities and I liked the program. I especially liked coach Jutting and I'm looking forward to playing there.

"I'm going to work my hardest every second of every minute, on and off the ice, and I will be the best player I can be for that program."

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